You may not want to read this at work folks
I’ve just watched the Terry Pratchett documentary on assisted dying.
It wasn’t easy to watch. It wasn’t easy to understand, or to compute because while they tried to show the end of a man’s life with dignity and respect; no matter how it happens, no matter how it is portrayed, people on both sides of the argument will find positives and negatives about it.
Judging by the press I’ve read online about the program, that is exactly what happened in the UK. Terry Pratchett admitted that with his Alzheimer’s Disease, by the time he’s ready to make a decision on when it’s time to go, his mind probably wouldn’t be in a condition to let him make a conscious decision. Such is the quandary with dementia of any kind.
I was blessed enough to be there when someone passed away. To help row them out on their final journey as Carrie Fisher so eloquently puts it. A past boyfriend of mine, Rowdy (so called in his team because he wasn’t), his grandmother was really poorly with heart problems. She was moved to the hospital in our home town, when his parents got a phone call to say she was not well, they called us, we got to the hospital first. Taking it in turns to sit with her, I was holding her left hand in my right hand, holding his mother’s hand, who was holding his brother’s hand, who was holding his grandmother’s right hand. A circle of love and support. Apologising for causing the fuss, she slowly slipped away, quietly, gently. Despite it being a noisy, chaotic, cardiac ward, it was a nice, peaceful death. The way it should be. The way it is expected of us who look after animals, but not of us who look after humans.
Many of you will know I struggle with depression. Some times I am fine, other times I am so low, I can barely see or function. My world goes dark, sometimes like tunnel vision. I get up, I wash, I get dressed, I sleep-walk through life. One of the reasons I wanted to get back to work, other than losing Peanut’s childcare place which spurred it on somewhat, was because I do not cope very well in isolation. I like my own company, but I thrive on interaction with other people. Like everyone else on this planet, I need to be validated. Doing a job, and doing a job well, is a large part of my validation.
When I’m in a black hole, I can’t see or hear what is going on around me, so feeling validated is hard. Recognising amongst other things, “I’ve made a difference today”, “I helped someone today”, or even simply, “I looked after myself today”, gets harder.
When my first marriage failed (read imploded), I couldn’t function as a human. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I threw myself into working, because if I was working, I wasn’t thinking. I played music loud in the car, so I couldn’t hear my thoughts. Many times when I was driving home, on motorways and A roads in the UK, I would look at the speed I was travelling and think, “It would be so easy to drive into that bridge”. There is one in particular that I can see clearly now as I type, that I had to grip my steering wheel so hard every time I drove past it.
I honestly don’t know what carried me through that time in my life. How I managed to get through the despair and darkness to the light on the other side. I wish I did. I know I read a lot of books, wrote a lot that I destroyed, and leaned on friends to hold me up.
I’ve always been in favour of people having the right to choose that if they’ve had enough, they are enabled and allowed to take that final step, make that choice, for themselves. I’ve never been seriously ill with a degenerative disease, facing life as my body breaks down around my sound mind. But my mind broke down around my sound body. I am on a ridiculously low dose of anti-depressants left over from a down period earlier this year. Two tablets spread over the week, but it’s enough to keep me ticking over. I know that I’m upset about living in this house, that I don’t feel I’ve taken the best care of Peanut, (we’re both home again today as he’s not well with another cough and cold). I have a repeat prescription that I can fill, but I don’t want to. I firmly believe that antidepressants provide the scaffolding to hold you up while you do the maintenance and rebuilding on yourself to make your mind better. I do not want to rely on the medicine as a crutch.
To quote Dr Phil again (twice in a week, you’re lucky) “You live with your eyes open.” He doesn’t believe in reliving the pain over and over again of a dark period in your life, as you’re here now, today. It only reinforces what you felt then, but just brings it back to the present day, when you’re not in that dark period. As I typed about that bridge, I was back driving my car, despite me listening to my son playing in the background, seven years later. But that emotion was so raw, if I think about it for too long, it still hurts.
Does that mean I am not mended, or does it mean the pain was so searing it created a scar? I have two scars on my abdomen, one from having my appendix out, one from Peanut’s C-section. I wear the latter with pride. But why shouldn’t there have been some scars created in my heart and in my head from 2005? It was, frankly, a really shitty year. It’s how you deal with life that teaches you to be strong, to be tough, to dust yourself off and move on.
I know that living in Australia is not a coincidence, I wanted to move as far away as I possible could from the UK. I asked for someone to help take me away. I can vividly remember the conversation I had with myself, which in itself is ironic, as the pain was so bad, I can’t remember a lot from that six-eight months. Not long after that, Hubs appeared as an email in my inbox, replying to my advert I’d placed online. As I listen to Peanut babbling and singing along to Balamory, my heart is full with joy that somehow my broken mind trusted my sound body to carry me through.
Choosing to end your life is not an easy decision. My poor head has taken me close on different occasions, because the pain felt too big to live with. But really, who am I to decide that? How dare I decide that I can’t cope with my thoughts? Thoughts can be changed, if you let them wander in and wander out again, some don’t even register.
But a broken body, one that doesn’t do what you want it to do any longer? The man featured in the program had Motor Neurone disease, and faced a prospect of living in a body that would slowly suffocate him. I don’t know any more. Until we can live someone else’s life, how are we to know what their quality of life is? What is acceptable to one is not to another, and as Tony Nicklinson found, no-one listened to him about how his life had become intolerable. Exhausting his last legal option, he chose to stop eating and drinking instead. Slipping away peacefully, it was far better than driving into a wall at 80+mph.
I’m not sure what this blog was about in all honesty, I just needed to get it out there. I’m not going to re-read it, I’ll only change things and I want it raw and unedited. It has not been my intention to offend anyone, if you have been, I am sorry.