In early 2014 my heart broke as I watched one of my best friends in the whole world, my Dad, become a stranger. He tried to warn us it was coming and then it was too late. Dad was diagnosed with severe depression. It took hold of him and we were left living with a different person we had never met.
I remember watching his amazing Father of The Bride wedding speech on dvd a few months after he took ill. It hit me like a ton of bricks: this amazing, fun, caring, intelligent, beautiful man was no longer with us. I missed him like crazy and I wept. Why couldn’t the Doctors fix him? Find the right medication to give me my Dad back. I just wanted to see him smile again, to hear his infectious laugh. I missed his hugs and our long funny chats. He started to lose scary amounts of weight. He started saying things that didn’t make sense, he was hearing voices and his levels of paranoia were frightening. He didn’t want to be around me. Hating the person he had become he tried to push me away. The tablets they were giving him to ‘help him’ were making him so much worse.
I quickly realised that depression is scarily still a taboo subject that many don’t understand. Some commented ‘why can’t he just pull himself together, he has so much to be happy about?’ The same reason a person with a broken leg can’t walk. The mind is currently broken. My sweet Pop needs fixed.
I went through a range of emotions. Initially, due to a lack of understanding, I blamed myself for the times he didn’t want me around. What had I done for him not to care anymore? Some days I didn’t think I could face going into hospital for him to tell me within 5 seconds to go away.
My husband was my rock. He told me we were going religiously no matter how hard Dad tried to push us away. We would be there for him. He would know that we cared, that we would always love him. There were days I took my baby boy into hospital as he was feeding on demand and Dad would almost cry at the sight of him. He couldn’t stand to see him. That little grandson Charlie he had always wished for. He couldn’t be happy about anything.
My Dad has the manners of a true gent, he stands when a lady gets up from the table. He opens doors, he constantly puts others before himself. Seeing this other person was all too much at times.
I felt guilty for crying as it wasn’t about me. Dad didn’t have the strength to see me upset. I so often tried my best to hold it together. The months went by and in early 2015 he was unrecognizable, so frail. He told me he wouldn’t live to see his 65th birthday in March. I wept by his bed as part of me believed him. He was wasting away in front of me. I felt so helpless.
I spoke out about depression, signed up for my first ever 10k and raised some money for The Mental Health Foundation. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of family and friends. What became very clear was that many are still scared to talk openly about mental health. Things need to change.
The week before I ran my 10K in May 2015, Dad got out of hospital and started smiling again. They finally found some medication that was starting to help. I couldn’t believe it. Seeing him laugh healed my soul. A year later I took a big jump from the 10k distance and ran my first marathon. I did it for Dad. I did it for everyone who has struggled with a mental illness. I did it for everyone I have worked with so far and will continue to work with. People who have opened their hearts to me to allow me to raise awareness. Each and every one of them have blown me away. When it could be so easy to sink they chose to swim. I have put links to those stories below.
My Dad recently got discharged from the nurses. He is doing much better. I feel so thankful as so many have not been so lucky.
I remember Dad saying to me years ago, when his own Mum was unwell, that sometimes all you can do is hold a person’s hand. Some days I just sat next to him when he didn’t want to talk and held his hand.
I know if he could see into the future he would have written us a letter before he took ill. I think I know him well enough to write the one he would have given me, his ‘little Jojo’. To write it for my children if I ever get ill. To write it for anyone out there hurting right now. Anyone who is missing someone who has changed due to one of the many mental illnesses out there that affect 1 in 4 people.
Please stay and hold my hand
Hey baby. I love you so much. Never ever forget this. You have children of your own now so I know you finally understand the depth of my love for you.
It pains me to my core to write this but soon things will change. I am not going to be able to show you how much I love you. I am going to push you away. I am going to tell you to stay away from me. I am going to say scary things I don’t mean. I am going to get so paranoid about so many things. I am going to stop enjoying life. I wish this wasn’t so. I wish I could stop it. All I want to do is see you smile, laugh and have fun. I want to enjoy my beautiful family and grandchildren. If I tell you to go away please try not to get upset. I am so ashamed I just don’t want you seeing me so unwell. I am trying to protect you the way I know best.
There will be nothing you can say to make me feel better. Believe me the Doctors will try to fix me. Just sit and hold my hand. I need you. None of this is your fault. Please never blame yourself. Please be strong for the family. It is going to be so hard for everyone. I love you all so much and it breaks my heart that you will have to see me this way. Don’t give up hope, even if I do. Keep believing in me please. I need you to believe in me. I need you to believe I can get better. I need you to never forget who I really am. Always keep the real me close to your heart.
I will love you forever. Dad x
If you have a friend or family member who has changed from mental illness please stay strong. Don’t take it personally or blame yourself. Love them and remember who they really are. There are often no words, just sit and hold their hand – if they will let you. Some days it will get too painful and some days it is ok to walk away. But don’t give up on them. Take a break and then try again. If you are lucky enough to see them heal – cherish every laugh, every smile and every hug.
People need to feel supported. People need to know that sharing experiences helps and bottling up your feelings does not. People like me and you need to know that it is ok to cry.
Let’s work together to make experiences of depression a positive force for change in society that will help others know that no one is a stranger when fighting this illness. Please stay and hold my hand.
Book and podcast launch this Summer 2018.
For related articles by Mummy Jojo about overcoming a mental illness or a form of grief or trauma please click on the links below. If you would like to help raise awareness about a specific subject please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org