Through the eyes of a carer for someone with a mental illness


‘Look after yourself Sarah’

Sarah SmallI keep trying to do the right thing, that thing about looking after yourself? Yes that’s the one, it doesn’t always come naturally to me but I am getting a little sick of being told every few minutes that that is what I should be doing. To be honest at the moment I am finding life a huge struggle, and you might wonder why, why now? Well I wish I could tell you, but at the moment there isn’t really much I can say on the matter, it is just something else I have to deal with that is making what was already a dire situation so much more difficult to deal with. I could have happily kept plodding along as normal but this situation I have now found myself in, so unfamiliar and such a long and bumpy road ahead feels so alien and difficult for me.

So the other day I dragged myself to see my GP and speak to her about everything that had been happening and once again the same old topic of conversation came up again; antidepressants. I still have the same problems, I am still rubbish at remembering to look after myself so likelihood is I will only forget to take them anyway and taking them hit and miss will be more damaging than not taking them at all. Secondly, how I feel is more circumstantial than anything else, wouldn’t you feel pretty miserable if you had all this going on? Thirdly despite how ‘gross’ ‘disgusting’ or anything else you may find, I am still breastfeeding Cora, yes she is over one, yes she doesn’t need it anymore but NO I don’t want to stop and more importantly neither does she yet. Now I don’t care how many times someone is to tell me it is ok to take them while breastfeeding, I am effectively giving my 14month old anti depressants.. All be it a tiny weenie amount, and that, for me personally doesn’t sit right. I will take risks with myself but I will not risk Cora. So after accepting I will this time take the prescription and ‘think about it’ I left again.

Call me what you like but we all have choices in life and at the moment that is my choice, I am currently having counselling but I have come to the conclusion that I don’t find short term counselling helpful because I have a long term problem that isn’t just going to go away over night so I am in the process of looking into more longer term counselling. I have said it before and I will say it again, it is a terribly lonely place being a carer, not always all the time but the majority, and throw young children into the mix and it is even more so.

I was quite lucky that when I had finished crying to my GP, I came across one of the receptionists I know quite well who was locking up, I was trying sooo hard not to show my emotions, though my face was obviously flushed from crying and I was really quiet. She showed me out the back door, because she had just locked the front one and as I left she asked me if I was going to be ok, well that was it; never ask me if I am ok when already on the brink of tears. Bless her she didn’t let me just leave and instead invited me back in, where she listened for awhile and told me to remember where they are if I ever want to nip in for a brew and a chat. I actually really needed that chat and actually went home with less weight hanging above my shoulders.



A new house, a new chapter

I waved goodbye to my old house and started to make my new one home. It was quite a sad day, after all, three of my children were born in that house, it held many memories girls aug 13for the four and a half years we had lived there, some good, some bad. As I entered our empty house for the last time the alarm on the door made the familiar beep beep beep, only this time it echoed around the empty house. I had a quick check around to see if we had everything, while all the time reminding myself we were starting a new chapter. As I closed the door and locked it sadness filled me, I knew it would go soon but that was once our home.

Our current house is bigger, but like our last home it takes a while for everything to end up in its place and cardboard boxes seem to just become part of life while you try and settle in. I have managed to get through a fair few but let’s face it, there could well be some still there at Christmas. I am not going to put pressure on myself because it has been such a difficult task, upheaval for everyone, for the children, new house, separate bedrooms, the day we moved, being looked after all day by Grandad, the list is endless. Then there has been Chris, who was for most of the time overwhelmed by the task ahead, and probably still is, he felt worried about being in different surroundings, it was upheaval to his support from professionals and cora aug 13medication ended up not always taken at the correct times. Then for me there was trying to coordinate the move, the children, Chris, who is where, what needs to be done, essentials unpacked, making our house safe for the girls, building the beds again to name just a few. I know with time we will get there as far as the house is concerned and we need to concentrate on enjoying the summer holidays with the girls, getting back into routine, making sure Chris gets to a more stable point again and maybe then I could have a bit of a rest too?

I look forward to creating new memories in our new house and making it our home. I know for now the road still looks long and very bumpy but at least we have now put behind us something that was always going to be inevitable.


‘You are always with us Daddy.’

It is so important that even though Chris is in hospital, that our four children still continue the relationship they have with him when he is at home. Ok it isn’t going to be in the same way but we can adapt things so they can continue to build on their relationships with him. This I feel isn’t only just important for the girls but equally important at reminding Chris what he has to live for and what is waiting for him at home.

They speak to him most days on the telephone, letting him know bits about their day, ok Cora is too little at only 8months to hold a conversation but she cadaddy photon say ‘Dadada’ and she can listen to her Daddy’s voice. They look forward to speaking to Daddy; we often call if they are missing him or if one has hurt themselves and want Daddy. They have also been to visit him as I wrote about on my blog ‘A Trip to the ‘Family Room’ it was lovely to watch them with him, it was like nothing had changed, and children are very resilient.

However, as you can imagine they miss him greatly, four weeks is a long time for them, a lot longer than it feels for me. I was talking to my mum about ways we could help them dealing with Daddy being in hospital and what they can do to feel closer to him when they miss him. She came up with an idea, having photo of him, with a message on the back, written to each of them from him so that when they missed him they would have something to look at and remember he is always with them and always thinks about them.

As you can see from the photo I printed off a photo of him, the same for all of them, he wrote a message on the back for each of them and I laminated and cut them out. They have taken their photo with them everywhere they have been, and instead of getting really upset that they miss him, they have taken out their photo, it has provided comfort, while I provide the cuddles.

School and playgroup have been amazing about it as well, they know why my girls have the photos, and they gave them little holders to put them in that you would normally wear to show your identification so that they don’t get lost. Such a small thing, but one that has been so important in continuing their relationship with Daddy, while he is unwell.


A trip to the ‘Family Room’

Taking my children to visit a psychiatric ward was always going to be something I would worry about, the signs on the walls about children visiting, say how it can be a distressing environment in which to bring children was enough to make me question how best to deal with it but I also knew my girls need to maintain their relationship with their dad, not only for their sake, but his. So I decided one evening this past week to book the family room and take Cora up to spend some time with Daddy.

handsAs I walked pushing the pram closer to the dull looking building with metal grills over one side of the windows where fresh air can flow in, I remembered what my health visitor had told me about children being very resilient, it is just another room to them with toys and games in it and they get to see their Dad. I struggled through a couple of heavy doors before coming to the lift, I hopped in with two other people who were not having much luck getting to the floor above, the lift was rickety, you have to push the door to get it to close properly before you can get off up to the next and only other floor. When we reached it the doors wouldn’t release, we waited thinking that maybe the other doors in the ‘air lock’ were open but it still didn’t release. We made our way back down to the ground floor and attempted the stairs. A very lovely lady offered to take the pram frame and I carried the car seat and we finally made it to the first floor. I thanked the kind lady that had helped me and made my way through the ‘air lock’ for anyone who doesn’t know, on most psychiatric wards where I live there are two doors with a space in between, you enter one door and once that has closed and locked the other can then be opened.

I made the short distance to the family room where Chris was already waiting. Cora at this time wasn’t aware of anything for she had fallen asleep on the journey, members of staff cooed over her and then we were left alone. The room was nicely painted; they had games, books, toys, lots of comfy chairs and soft lighting. I told him he could get her out and not to worry about waking her up, he unstrapped her from the car seat and lifted her gently into his arms, at first she didn’t make a sound, she opened her eyes ever so slightly before realising she was in a strange place, with Daddy who she hadn’t seen for awhile, she let out a cry, so he handed her back to me. I sat down with her on my knee and he sat on the floor in front of her talking away to her saying he had missed her and she is beautiful. She launched forward and grabbed the little ties on his jumper and promptly started chewing on them, it didn’t take her long before she went and sat on his knee chatting away ‘dadada’

baby footOnce our hour was up and it was time to leave Chris cuddled her and placed her back in her car seat so I could take her home, he thanked me for bringing her in and hoped he would see her again soon. I left once again through the air lock in which I had entered, back down the stairs, but this time instead of excitement, sadness filled me, I pushed her out of the building and towards the footpath away from the ward. I looked at Cora and I looked up towards his room, I couldn’t hold it in anymore, tears rolled down my face, I was heading back home, to my family but in reality my family is apart, one key person missing, yes for the right reasons but it doesn’t change the sadness. My eldest ‘prays for daddy at school’ and ‘gets upset sometimes mummy’ my gorgeous four year old ‘misses daddy, are we going to see him today, will he come home’ and my two year old, if she hurts herself asks for ‘daddy to make it better mummy’ and of course Cora says ‘dadada’ all the time. It is the part of his life that professionals often seem to forget about but probably one of the most important.

My mum made some suggestions last night of ways to keep daddy involved so he feels a part of their life and they know he will be back when he is better… but that is a blog in its own right.

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Our Christmas

Although Christmas was always slightly tainted from the moment everything happened with Chris and he ended up in hospital, I knew no matter how much I wanted to crawl into a hole and hibernate through it I had to try and give the girls a fantastic Christmas. Everything had been bought for them, just everyone else who would have to go without this year, I didn’t get round to sending a single card, let alone any gifts but like I kept telling myself the short term pain of him being in hospital would hopefully lead to the long term of him more well than he is at the moment.

Christmas eve he was granted leave until Thursday, they would keep his bed and he could return anytime that he wasn’t coping. He came home and the girls were thrilled to see him, I explained from the word go that he was only coming home for Christmas and he would then be going back to hospital, as at no point did I want them getting confused with him coming and then going. They accepted this.

It was lovely to have Chris home, to spend time with him and the girls as a family again but on Christmas day it hit me like a ton of bricks again just how unwell he is, how much he struggles with simple things and how he just seemed so overwhelmed by everything. My heart, felt crushed again as the reality once again hit me. He managed to get through Christmas day; my parents came and cooked Christmas dinner so we didn’t have anything to think about. On Boxing Day we spent the day just as a family, but from lunchtime things were very difficult, he struggled with agitation, his thoughts, he wasn’t coping very well and he was asking for PRN medication, to which the hospital hadn’t sent him home with any. That night he spent most of it awake or having nightmares and flashbacks and by morning was shaking, sweating, agitated, anxious, worried and again struggling with everything.

His social worker came and picked us both up and we took him back to hospital where he was having a ward round, they have upped some of his medication, they have said he might be allowed some more leave in a couple of days but would see how he goes and try and get to the bottom of the prolonged agitation. It was hard giving him a hug and a kiss and leaving him behind the doors again, it doesn’t get easier but I know deep down he is in the best place at the moment and we can make up for the time lost once he is home. Next ward round has been arranged for next week.

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It’s Christmas time!

I know I have been quiet for awhile, the past few weeks I am not going to lie have been hard, with a whole range of emotions from relief, happiness, to sadness and anger. You name it; I have probably felt it over the last couple of weeks. Chris remains in hospital where they are monitoring him and changing his medication to suit, they so far, apart from one occasion have been amazing, really caring and I leave knowing they are looking after him, unlike our local hospital.

With Christmas upon us I have been trying to keep myself busy which with four children is pretty easy but every now and again I am reminded as to the reality of what has been going on, and I have lived in an unknown world as to whether Chris would be well enough to have some leave over Christmas or not. I still won’t know the definite answer to this until later today so for now it is still just a wait and see game. As much as I would like him home if only for a little while, I know he is still very far from well so understandably it is causing me worry about looking after him and keeping him safe, although we know he can return at any time.

I have been touched so much lately by other people’s kindness, on many occasions I have been brought to tears. My health visitor ordered the girls presents and dropped them round on Friday, our doctors give out hampers to those who have had a tough year, another of my friends gave me something so special and personal to her to remind me I am never alone, another friend gave me loads of things to make Christmas a little bit more special saying ‘if you can’t help your friends at Christmas, then when can you?’ I have had others help with the girls; some have offered or given me lifts to the hospital to see Chris. Then there are those that have been there to listen, some even at silly hours of the night, and I mean it, I am deeply touched. I am honoured to call them my friends.

I am incredibly lucky that both mum and dad are coming over for Christmas day so some of the pressure will be taken away from me, they can help with the Christmas dinner and the girls and I can concentrate on being a family again if Chris makes it home for awhile. They will be around to help out and share Christmas with.

I just want to take the opportunity to thank you all for helping me through the last few weeks, for listening and sharing your experiences with me. I want to wish you all a very Happy Christmas whatever your plans may be and send love and happiness your way.

God Bless,

Sarah x


The weekend

My weekend, I knew it was going to be hard, I was after all completely dreading it and really unsure as to how I was even going to get to Monday. When you looking after someone in a crisis minutes can seem hours, hours can seem like days and well weeks are more like months or years! Saturday was hard, it was exhausting but just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse Chris decided to down a large bottle of Malibu, straight. That is right, not diluted with anything; this for someone used to drinking is a lot, let alone someone who isn’t used to drinking. I had made an attempt to stop him, suggested other ways he could help himself but he wasn’t listening, I may as well have been chatting to myself. He told me he didn’t want to feel like this anymore, he wanted to take all his tablets and the only thing he could think of right now was alcohol.

Once he had finished the lot he fall asleep on the sofa, he woke acting very strange so I saw him up to bed and said goodnight. I locked the house up, got ready for bed but before I could get into it, Chris started coughing and choking, that was my cue for no sleep tonight. I made sure he was ok, before going back downstairs, I hadn’t even reached the bottom before I began to cry, and the more I tried to stop the tears the more they ran down my face. I was crying because it had just hit me that I didn’t know who this was, what had they done with the Chris I knew, he rarely drinks, he wouldn’t dream of drinking himself like this and be at risk of choking on his own vomit. I missed him, I desperately wanted him to cuddle me and tell me everything would be alright but he couldn’t, for I didn’t know where the Chris I recognise was.

Sunday morning was a blur, I had only ever managed to doze on the sofa on and off between running to Chris every time I could hear him choking to see if he was still ok. I had asked for his dad to come over and sit with Chris and the girls while I grabbed some sleep as I was struggling to function, I was shocked when he agreed. He arrived at 11 o’clock and shortly after I went and lay on the bed. Two interruptions later from the girls Chris was saying his dad needed me to go down because he needed to go, I looked at the clock, he hadn’t even been here an hour. Apparently though it was more important for him to go and have the lunch his mum had made him than to help me look after his son and grandchildren. He left, I sighed, I got on with it.

The rest of Sunday was spent guarding the key to the safe, and talking Chris back from two places when he decided once my back was turned to leave. He was agitated, he was pacing, couldn’t keep still, his thoughts were racing and he just kept telling me he didn’t want to be here anymore, and that we would be better without him. He said he was tired of fighting and tired of living like this. It was exhausting; don’t forget I was also doing all the ‘normal’ things you find any mother doing with four children and a house to run on a weekend. Last night I managed to get him to stay in the house, I gave him a Zopiclone and prayed he would sleep; he went to bed, closed his eyes and put it this way… It was one looooong night!