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Everything changes - mental illness - Carers UK Forum

Everything changes - mental illness

For issues specific to caring for someone with mental ill health.
Everything changes

http://www.guardian.co.uk/family/story/ ... 47,00.html

Geoff Elms met Michelle on her 21st birthday. He was a taxi-driver; she was his fare. They married, had a baby, then one day she suffered a 'severe mental episode' and life was never the same again

Geoff Elms doesn't go out of the house without taking his wife Michelle's medication with him. He can't leave it at home in case she takes an overdose. If she is due any pills at lunchtime, he sets aside the exact number for her in an egg cup.
Usually he sets off with the children, having got them up and breakfasted, at 9am. Six hours and several phone calls home later - he works flexitime in IT - he is back, just as his son is walking up the hill from school. If his wife, who is known as Mick, is on the ball, he can head off 10 or 15 minutes earlier in the morning - "She'll say, 'Go on, I'll make sure the kids are OK,'" - which means he can bank time for when she isn't. "She goes down very quickly." On bad days, he locks the front door so she can't get out. "What I don't want is her running and throwing herself under a bus."

There are six million carers in the UK, three million of them juggling work along with their responsibilities for an ill friend or relative. Elms is just one of them. He lives in Basildon, which brings him under the auspices of the South Essex NHS Partnership Trust. Recently, after he took part in a carers' education programme, they asked him to contribute to a DVD to be used as a training package for professionals ("so-called", he says). He and three other carers were subsequently put forward for an Unsung Heroes award. "We won silver," he says. He can't remember who won gold.
Elms is a tall, grey-haired man of 52. Only patches of psoriasis on his face indicate how much stress he has got used to living with. His manner is calm, and patient and good-natured. His achievement over the past 12 years is not just in working and keeping his wife out of hospital as much as he can - she is admitted about twice a year, usually and inexplicably in April and November - but also in maintaining a family life. Their eldest child, Tiffany, was declared a child in need at the age of three; their youngest, Jamie, was put on the at-risk register shortly after birth. When they were little, they saw a childminder (now a family friend), but it is Geoff who filled their lives with ordinary things - Scouts, paper rounds, caravanning holidays - and who has kept them out of care.

Today is just an ordinary day for Elms. He has taken a couple of hours off work to see me - hours he will make up another time. "I couldn't do what I do without a very understanding boss." He meets me at the station in a spotless Ford Galaxy and takes me back to the house, a small modern terrace on the outskirts of town. "Mick's not in hospital at the moment so hopefully she'll have the kettle on," he says. "When she is out, she needs things to be structured. We have a little thing planned every day. Monday she goes out with a friend, Tuesday another friend, a former patient, pops round, Friday if she's on the ball she'll do a bit of housework." Today, he says, she is about six out of 10.

Mick is sitting on a chair in the living room staring straight ahead when we go in. She has thick, dark hair pulled back in a band, an attractive face and the clothes of a fatter woman - which she recently was. She is wearing socks with cats on the side. "I'm not doing Hoovering this week," she says.

"You're not?"

Mick is massaging her hands vigorously as if rubbing in cream.

"It's all tidy."

Geoff smiles at her. "No problem."

Later today, when the children - Tiffany, 14, and Jamie, 10 - are back from school, Geoff will give them their tea and help them with their homework and clear away "and all the rest of it". If the kids have problems, they come to him. "They don't remember Mick from before, which in my mind is a good thing. They only see me as the constant. I'm always the same." Sometimes he sees them "becoming carers", which he doesn't like. "The other day, we were in the queue at Tesco and a policeman was buying his lunch, and Jamie was holding Mick's hand and distracting her. I thought, 'I don't want him to do that. It's my job to care for her. It's his job to be a little boy.'"

Elms and Mick met in 1985, on her 21st birthday. He was a taxi-driver; she was his fare. They married in 1989 and, while she did suffer from depression - demons from bad childhood experiences - "Our only worries were money worries," says Elms. Then, out of the blue, in November 1996, she had the first of many "severe mental episodes".

"I was in London on a training course, came home and Mick had just flipped out. Out of control. Initially, we saw the GP and he sent her to the hospital, who gave her some medication. Then, on April 12, 1997, when she was pregnant with Jamie, things just went bang, didn't they? You just flipped, didn't you? One of the neighbours had a boy who Mick was frightened of. Something was said and you punched her, didn't you?"

Mick has been sitting in the chair, rocking slightly, not replying to Elms's nudges. Now she says, "They sectioned me and put me in hospital."

"Depression and suicidal tendencies wasn't it?" Elms adds. "Though, fortunately, the past two hospital admissions we've not had the suicidal thoughts."

Mick had Jamie while still in hospital and when she first came out she didn't realise he was hers. "I don't remember anything about him," she says. "I remember everything about Tiffany." The social worker came to the house one day and Mick just handed the baby to her and shut the door in her face. "They put him on the at-risk register," says Elms. "I got a phone call at work, came up to the hospital and they were checking Jamie out. As soon as I turned up, social services legged it. The doctor checked him over and he was fine. And the next day the social worker came to apologise, didn't they?"

Mick looks keenly at us. "That was the first time I realised he was mine," she says.

Elms is keen to remove the aura of taboo that hovers over the subject of mental illness. He is admirably matter-of-fact for someone who spends much of his time negotiating with bureaucracy. "At the moment," he says, "I get more support than Mick does. I have a carer's support worker. But they keep changing the system for patients - I mean, sorry, 'service users' - which means things are getting worse. Mick used to have a social worker. Now she has a care-worker, is it Mick?"

"Care co-ordinator."

"They work out her 'care plan'. But half the time they don't stick to it. The only time Mick leaves the house is with me and the kids. Someone used to take Mick out once a week to go for a walk, get a loaf of bread.

"Now it's, 'Oh, we're not allowed to do that any more.' She used to have a psychologist, who'd come every week. Now it's just short, sharp shock when she's admitted to hospital."

For the DVD, he talked about how healthcare professionals can make things easier for carers. There have been occasions when Mick has been admitted when doctors have refused to deal with him. "They say, 'I'm talking to her, not you.' And I have to answer, 'But she can't tell you anything. I can.'"

Elms is a pretty experienced carer now. He reads up and researches Mick's medication every time it's changed; he knows when to up the dose and when to down it. But for new carers, he says, they should ease off on the jargon. "You go up to the hospital and they say, you've got bipolar, schizophrenia. You're getting used to all these big words. Then they say, 'You've got to go and see the SHO.' What's one of them? Talk to us in plain English."

Has Mick ever had a proper diagnosis? "No, we've never had one of those. If you've got a broken leg, you've got a broken leg. With mental health it's a lot harder. It's a bit of this, a bit of that."

"What do you think?"

"Schizophrenia, maybe, with the voices - she hears her mum or her nan telling her to kill herself." He stops. "Mick's nuts," he says, "aren't you? You're nuts." And they both laugh.

"I can tell Mick is getting unwell before Mick does," he adds. "She'll be in the kitchen helping me wash up. And her feet will start moving on the spot, just little twitches. Then in a few hours she'll start walking on the spot, then she'll start pacing up and down. I can read Mick. I try to distract her, get talking to her, try to stop it."

If he doesn't succeed, what happens? "I've had ornaments thrown at me. A kitchen knife once."

How do you stop that?

"Get out of the way quick."

"My mum isn't telling me to kill myself now," Mick says.

Geoff nods. "We're getting there," he says. "We're getting there."

When he leaves the room to get something, Mick shows me the cross-stitch cat-calendar on the wall that she has made, and the plaster bears that she collects. Does she have a favourite?

She says, "No, not really." Then, "I wouldn't be here without Geoff. I would have been dead a long time ago."

"It's lucky you took that taxi."

"Yes." She smiles broadly. "Lots up at the hospital, their husbands have left them. They don't stand by them. But Geoff has stood by me all this time. He loves me."
My god I have just read that, and besides the fact I had to stop work, I could nearly have written it word for word, I hold my hands to this guy, he done better I have.
after reading that it makes you realise that your not the only one in the same situation. thank god for forums.
This came through this morning.

Some here may find it of interest.I know I related to a few of the ladies comments.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/let ... ly_ill.php
Hi! Thanks for sharing this!

Brought a tear to my eye this morning- so valuable to read.



I can relate to this story somewhat, when I was working on night shift before I came a carer, I live in Tring and used to travel along the bypass to Hemel Hempstead, if I were to see an Ambulance going the other way with blue lights, I would turn around at the next slip road and go back to make sure that everything was okay, the amount of times that I made myself late for work, During my dinner break about 1.30am, I would use to phone her, she would wait up until I phoned to make sure that everything was okay, sometimes she didn't answer, things used to go through my mind, has she taken an over dose or cut herself, I would always lock the door before I went at night times, but in the morning coming home, I always used to worry what I might find.
When my daughter was born my wife started to go down hill,as she got older, I found it increasingly hard to look after my wife and my daughter at the same time, someone always seemed to get hurt, my daughter had to grow up very fast, but didn't get much of a child hood, looking back now, I feel very sorry for her as I couldn't always be there for her when she needed me, she resents me for that, but what could I do, it was so hard trying to be with 2 people at the same time, I'd wish that there was another way, my daughter has grown up now, but there isn't that great father daughter bond, we are like two good friends and that sadens me.