Mental Health is something that affects everyone and that can be directly and/or indirectly. In my case, the indirect affect of Mental Health came quite suddenly in my early 20’s when I was working for the MOJ.
My lovely Grandma Amelia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in early 2012 and I remember it vividly because I was there; the day of her scheduled appointment was a struggle as other close family members were working and couldn’t take the time off and my Granddad, who was her main carer, had his own hospital appointment. Luckily I was able to take some TOIL to take her to the doctors and listened as her doctor slowly explained the diagnosis. It was sobering, sad and stressful to hear that someone you love will lose their memory and would be slipping away month by month with a projected life span of just 5 years.
Over a period of around 3 years her memory loss gradually got worse with some more noticeable steps of steep decline. The smart woman that I knew who always had a matching bag, gloves and coat and perfectly styled hair was unable to dress herself without help. Her ability to have a conversation was jumbled; it either didn’t quite make sense, was missing words, or she would sit in a subdued silence. Her frustration at not remembering things would often find her in floods of tears.
Her coping mechanisms were actually very good – there was no outward aggression (which can often occur) just laughter at her mistakes and continuous folding of things. The number of dusters, tea towels and napkins found in odd places around the house (and garden!), which were folded neatly into piles, were very funny! As was her pouring the teapot of water into the teabag pot rather than her own cup or believing that the lady presenting BBC Breakfast was only talking to her….and the list goes on!
As a family we rallied round to cover caring, cleaning, and countless doctors appointments and it affected us all in different ways. From a personal perspective I found the experience of supporting her and my other family members, especially my Mum, stressful. I could see the strain and the toll it was taking on others and felt powerless. The feeling of frustration and helplessness was there everyday and managing this as well as leading a team of, often challenging, people at work for the first time was hard. I often found myself painting a face on for work when underneath I was struggling.
I was very lucky though; at the MOJ I had a wonderful manager called Carol and she really supported me by talking and allowing TOIL on Fridays when I needed to help out at home. To me, I was only taking my Grandma to her weekly hairdressing appointment and to a tearoom, which might sound like a day off, but the reality was helping her dress, cleaning up, and most difficult, explaining normal activities around 10 times an hour.
This story doesn’t come to a happy ending and my Grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep at her nursing home in October 2015.
Although the experience of having a family member suffer with a mental health disease was very hard I do take away some really positive things that I hope can help others cope:
Don’t suffer in silence. Find someone you trust who you can be open with so you don’t feel alone with what you are facing.
Explore flexible working with your employer. My experience was really positive and it can help alleviate stress.
If you having caring responsibilities reach out to the Carers network in your department and find out how they can help