The last place anyone wants to be when they're ill is in hospital. There's a bunch of ill people there. Including, but not limited, at this present moment, to my own father, who is currently experiencing the rather strange phenomenon of having lost his sense of balance almost altogether, a result of a complicated ear infection that has migrated into places it could really have done without being. To see anyone struck down by an illness is difficult, but especially one who has always previously looked healthy and been in more-or-less full control of his faculties. It's only six months previously that he came flying off his granddaughter's pogo stick in the park, got up, dusted himself off, and carried on playing. And he himself is at least in part troubled by that difference, not used to being needy.
Well, that's fair enough, and something that a lot of people are forced to contemplate whether in their relative old age, or younger. Being a burden is hard on the person who is a burden, regardless of its effect on the bearers of that burden. My experience of the healthcare system and the people who choose to work in it has been positive, almost without exception: those people don't arrive at work of a morning (or indeed in the middle of the night) hoping that folk will leave them alone and not bring their problems. It's the exact opposite. The problems are there, and the people who staff the NHS are there to help with those problems, whatever they are and in most cases however they came about. The system is troubled by the almost incredible weight of all the problems we, the public, roll up exhibiting, and the expectation of people (such as my own mother) who carry with them the idea that if they could just get the diagnosis right and choose the right treatment, everything will be back to normal after a short time. That's a learning process, recognising that medicine is an art as well as a science, and that skilled professionals don't always know the exact answers.
The Northern General is, as I have had the 'pleasure' to write before, a great and terrible place. You don't want to have to go there, but you know that it's there, and that if you do go there, they'll look after you. The Hallamshire is, likewise, a great and terrible place, but for one reason or another, it just isn't quite so awful. The general idea seems to be that you go to the NG, and if you're lucky, they get rid of you and you get better in the RH. There's a curious carnival atmosphere when you're tied to these places, whether as a patient or a visitor. That out-of-the-ordinary pattern, of committing days or evenings to visiting, of being away from home, of spending time with a sick person who might not be up to much conversationally, of trying to find entertaining small talk that skirts the big issue... It's all part of those life experiences that shape who you are, but those experiences are not ones that you enjoy at the time. There's a wonderful atmosphere of care, of love, of hope in those places. But there's also fear, of loss, of decrepitude, of dying. Because everyone dies of something, and at that point, you're likely to experience the hospitals.
So my heart - whatever that means - goes out to those people who choose to work in those environments. There'll be days when patients die, despite your best efforts, and other days when they get better without there being an obvious reason for it. Those people who work in those environments where it is inevitable that there will be heartbreaking, devastating days. The world needs them, and the rest of the world owes them a respect that is not always shown. Let's hope that politics does not end up making their lives more difficult than they need to be.
Not reading the books I've written already, I hope. No, creating the fourth one under the influence of the dulling (numbing?) effect of the otherwise excellent, perhaps even life-saving citalopram hydrobromide. I'll be honest: the same bit of my mind that does the creative stuff when writing, be it music or fiction or this very blog, well, that's the same bit of my mind that does all the damaging bad stuff. And when it's in the wrong sort of mood, if you will, it is capable of being very destructive indeed. Is the sacrifice worth it? I don't know in the sense that I do put quite a bit of energy into creative stuff, and so when it's not happening that can in itself be very distressing. But I do know the damage caused by not having the armour, if indeed that is the right word, to get through to the end of a day (or more often for me to get through a night) is truly irreparable.
Some readers will know why this time of year (specifically the date February 15th) has and continues to have an awful significance to me as I do my regular job, which I will not be discussing on here. But for that date, five years on, to bring back a discussion of suicide, its causes and those things which are going on in the background which don't appear in the news stories, well, that's the most double-edged of swords.
Because we do need to talk about it. Plenty of people do not have any understanding of what an ill mind is, and so can't conceive of the sorts of things that might be happening inside one. Well-meaning folk will respond to talk of depression with a list of all the reasons that it shouldn't affect you because 'look at all the wonderful things you have'. And there's a need for that, in one sense. It's a part of recovering, to take some sort of enjoyment and pleasure out of those wonderful things, but it's not part of the treatment process for most of us (there, I've said it: there is an 'us', those people whose minds have gone awry, who have experienced the inability to look at anything in the future with excitement or anticipation, whose lights are on, perhaps, but for whom the world is full of nothing). Why? Because a decent part of the problem is that guilt in not feeling happy about the things that should make you happy.
So it's a good thing that social media in particular is awash with references to mental health, that there are some very simple instructions for people looking after those with the problems, and that there is recognition of the reality of those problems for those who suffer them. It's not going to save everybody, but at least it makes people alert. I did not know what depression was - and I would probably have been guilty of dismissing it as attention-seeking or self-indulgence - until someone I knew only slightly described it back to me: the thought that if you just crashed the car, it would give you a bit of relief from all the stuff. If it were worrying about money, or as seems to be the case with Caroline Flack, about reputation, public opinion and media onslaught, then perhaps you could trace it to those things and address them at the source. But it's probably not those things, because it doesn't save itself for when things are bad. That's not what depression is, although it might be when it's at its worst, its most obvious. My sympathy goes out to those who suffer, but most especially to those who suffer and don't understand, or suffer and are not understood.
To adapt a couple of ideas that really belong to others: there are plenty of reasons to stay alive; the best advice I can give is to wait, and hope. Wait for things to change, because they do. Hope that those things in which you can't take any delight don't remain so distant forever. Even if it does take a bit of a helping hand to find that hope and that patience, whether that be talking therapy or pharmaceuticals. And, if my (previous) experience is anything to go by, there will come a time when you are ready to feel again, when the armour can come off, and you can let yourself just be. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, but equally life is no place to be if there isn't a dream in there somewhere, a hope for something that may be the longest of long shots, that may even be impossible. But if it is difficult, it is already done. The impossible takes just a little longer...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought