17 days ago, my Grandma died. Today was her funeral.
I wasn’t going to write a post about it and thus about my mental health in the week that led up to my grandmother’s death because to be honest I think it makes me seem very selfish, self obsessed and ridiculous. However, having thought about it I have realised that the entire experience (I have lost all of my other grandparents before so I don’t mean the experience of a loved one dying, rather it was the events leading to it that I want to discuss), highlights something people often don’t realise about living with mental illnesses.
With mental health issues, as with physical illnesses, there are no days where you can simply “turn them off”. There is no break or holiday from the battle, even when interference from that voice in your brain comes at the most inconvenient and irrelevant time.
We were told my grandma was going to die on Monday the 29th of February. They didn’t say how long exactly, but she wasn’t going to live until the next Monday, so time was precious and naturally my family and I spent what was left of her life at her bedside, even if she was asleep for the last 72 hours or so. I love my grandma dearly and she has played a big part in my life, and a large portion of my childhood memories are constructed from the hours I spent being looked after by her in the house she shared with my grandad.
During the week starting the 29th February 2016 I should have been thinking of nothing but my grandma and my mum who was about to lose her mother, my irrelevant worries about germs, how many steps I had done or calories I had eaten should not have come into play, but no matter how hard I tried, they did. Even family members and friends thought I should give my personal neuroses a break for the week as they really weren’t important in a literal life or death situation, and were just making things more difficult than they were. In all honesty I agreed with them, and got frustrated at myself for not putting my irrational fears aside. I felt like a right idiot, like a person on the Titanic who, once alerted of the fact we had crashed into a massive iceberg, worried not about safety or lives being lost, but whether or not the iceberg issues would interfere with my dinner reservations that evening. I was the character in the disaster movie that you yell at the screen to shut up because they are worrying about such nonsense.
That said, a person with an eating disorder cant “just eat like a normal person” because it is Christmas and it is a nice occasion with nice food and nice people hiding behind every christmas tree, a person with OCD can’t “just stop” their rituals because the the house is on fire (or it has crashed into an iceberg…not sure how but lets just go with it) and they really need to focus on evacuating, and a person with depression cannot “just cheer up” because it is someones wedding and nobody wants to see a grumpy person throwing confetti with a face like a soggy potato. Being on your “best mental health act like a normal person behaviour” is no more possible than asking your liver to be on its “best physical health behaviour” despite having hepatitis. It is like asking someone with a broken leg “to just take the cast off and run” like nothing is wrong because it is the Olympics and therefore a special occasion that requires special effort. No matter what the occasion, the leg, the liver or indeed the brain, is still broken.
When it was the last time I would be able to hold my grandma’s hand I should have clung to it like she clung on to life, but in terms of OCD I was too afraid to touch her even though I have held her hands a million times before when I was a kid and survived to tell the tale. When it was the last time I could sit with my grandma I should have focused on being present with her, but my mind was buzzing with thoughts that I was lazy for sitting at all and needed to go outside to do some walking to burn calories. When my mum came home after a day of watching her dying mother she did not need me kicking up a fuss because I didn’t want to eat my dinner, yet still, every night I would cry over the same meal I have had every evening for who knows how long. It felt wrong, inconsiderate and selfish to be crying about a meal when my mum was about to lose her mother, but as much as I tried I honestly couldn’t help it and it is that message that I want to get across in this post. There were a lot of ways I should have behaved both in that week and on countless other occasions I could list from the past decade but with any illness, physical or mental, the should’s and oughts become difficult to obey.
Obviously I cannot blame everything on my mental health issues and some responsibility needs to be taken. I may not be able to help being ill but I should have dealt with my illnesses in a more constructive way that week. I should have called my psychiatrist or hospital to manage my worries rather than spilling them over onto my mum who was already full of her own fears and that is my fault. What I don’t want is it to make it sound like mental health issues are a get out of jail free card that allow you to do whatever you want with no consequences. After all the person who cannot run in the Olympics cannot spend the time of the race stealing penguins from the zoo instead and then blame it on the fact they had a broken leg that was preventing them from doing what they should have been.
If anyone reading this is a parent or carer of someone with a mental health condition I just want you to know that whoever your offspring or friend is, they do not mean to create any stress in your life with their problems, and when they do it is because they honestly cannot help it. They know there are times where it would help you if they could “just stop and be normal” and I can pretty much promise you that they will be trying, sometimes it just isn’t possible even when they can see the pain they are causing other people.
Good lord this post has got a bit heavy and depressing so I am sorry about that, but I feel it is an important topic that I need to touch on. Have a picture of a penguin in a sombrero to lighten the mood. Cheerio.