It’s been a few months since I posted my first two blogs. I have been wrestling with this one as some of the content is very personal. However I think some of it will be familiar to some people out there so here goes.
My Parkinson’s Journey #3
Highs and Lows
The couple of years following my hike up Scaffel Pike were somewhat tainted with mixed emotions. There was something bubbling away inside of me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was. Work was becoming a major issue for me, I found it highly stressful and I’d not been enjoying it for some time. Well I say sometime, in fact it was years in reality but there was something different inside of me that dealt with the issue now. In fact I was not dealing with it all. In years gone by I would have taken things more in my stride and although I didn’t particularly like my job I just got on with it. But now I would often reach for alcohol as my tried and tested crutch. This was the start of a slippery slope, certainly not into any form of alcoholism but certainly an unhealthy coping mechanism.
My general health was fine and I was certainly fit for my age, I continued to visit the gym and push myself as hard as possible. But strange as it may seem I always felt that no matter how hard I pushed myself my overall fitness did not improve. My thoughts were that of the ageing process and accepted that this is normal. However deep in the back of my mind there were some niggling doubts about my overall health. It certainly didn’t help matters by drinking a bottle of wine or opening a few beers every time I had a bad day at work, which was quite often!
To counteract my issues with work I destressed at the weekends and days off with my hobbies. I was a keen fly fisherman and had been for quite a few years. I would often go to the Lake District with my father-in-law Mike. We had some great days out and there was always plenty of banter on who came home with the coveted “Top Rod” award. Unfortunately Mike suffered a stroke in July 2012 so my days out fishing nowadays tended to be on my own and although I still enjoyed it, they were never the same.
My love for hiking grew and as well as another trip to Scaffel Pike I managed to conquer Ben Nevis and Mount Snowdon. The Ben Nevis trip was particularly memorable. I made the trip up to the highlands with Mike my brother-in-law, Phil, Mikes brother-in-law and Satnam a colleague from work whom I’d climbed Scaffel Pike with the year before. It was the first time Satnam had met Mike and Phil. They all seemed to get on well and the conversation flowed as we made the long trek up to Scotland. We all had things in common, we were all professional people, we loved walking and rightly or wrongly we all absolutely loved alcohol!!
The minute we got to our hotel in Spean Bridge, the bags were dumped in the rooms and we excitedly rushed into Fort William just like a bunch of middle aged men that have been let loose for the weekend. Oh we were a bunch of middle aged men that had been let loose for the weekend ha ha. Because we were to climb the highest mountain in Britain first thing in the morning it was going to be a quiet night so I made myself a self-imposed limit of 4 pints, which I was quite vocal about. It was around 8 in the evening and we were all sat in a pub on our second or third drink and watching some of the locals make arses of themselves when a strange thing happened…
During the next few minutes I looked at the time on my phone and it was 1.30 in the morning and we’d drunk around 10 pints. Oh dear I kept saying or words to that affect, we are going to seriously regret this in the morning.
The morning came and yes we did seriously regret what we’d done and I was the brunt of all the jokes with my self-imposed 4 pint limit. Mike and Phil especially, and even to this day remind me of it.
There was no getting out of it though, we were there to climb Ben Nevis and that is exactly what we were going to do. We were all fairly subdued as we started the climb, personally I felt physically sick, my hangover was horrendous. For the first hour and half of the climb we hardly said a word, all we did was sweat, huff and puff.
The body’s ability to recover always amazes me, any signs of a hangover disappeared after that first hour and half and we were back to normal. The rest of the climb to the summit was no picnic though, the ascent just never seemed to end. It wasn’t helped with Satnam picking up a knee injury half way up which slowed us down. However we reached the summit with the only disappointment being the weather. It was cold, damp and drizzly with no view what so ever.
The journey down was great and once we were through the clouds the scenery was stunning. For those of you who don’t know there is a pub at the foot of Ben Nevis and yes you guessed it we went straight for it. Well it would be rude not to.
The night followed with a meal and more drinks back at the hotel and we headed home the next day. One thing I do remember about the weekend at Ben Nevis was that it dispelled any recent doubts about my health. If I’m fit enough to drink 10 pints and then climb Ben Nevis the morning after then surely there cannot be anything wrong with me. Fit as a fiddle.
It was also during this period that I reacquainted myself with Neil, an elderly guy who used to be the driver/handyman at a previous employer of mine. Neil is the most genuine guy you will ever meet, a true gentlemen and one of the old school. Neil had been a keen walker all his life and he kindly took me under his wing and showed me some classic walks in the Yorkshire Dales, Lancashire and the Lake District. I was getting out and about and life was pretty good, the drinking and work issues were still there but getting out in the fresh air on the weekends seem to keep things under control.
It was in April 2015, there’d been some reorganisation at work and I’d been moved into a global team. A consequence of this was that my boss was Canadian and due to the nature of how things were structured I found myself working from home almost permanently. Although I’d always seen the working from home thing as a massive perk, getting to the point of actually never getting out was beginning to send me stir crazy. Although I did have the option to work at a local office I chose not to which in hindsight was a mistake.
It was early afternoon and I was waiting to go into the daily team conference call when totally out of the blue I was starting to panic. Random thoughts in my head such as “what if I get a question I can’t answer”, “what if the document I last submitted gets a bad review”. I felt sick, light headed and just generally bad. I contacted the project manager on the company instant messaging service and made an excuse about having a migraine and not being able to make the daily call. All a complete lie but I was never going to say I was having some kind of panic attack. She was sympathetic quoting she also suffered from migraines and had no problem with me taking the rest of the day off to sleep it off. Within an hour or so I started to feel better so immediately started my own inquest, what’s going on, what just happened. I chilled out for the rest of the day. I didn’t tell Karen my partner about it and vowed to start the next day on a positive note by going to the gym before work the following morning.
I did go to the gym the following morning but whilst I was getting showered and dressed following my session I had an overwhelming feeling of dread, I did not want to go to work today, I felt dreadful and the anxiety from the day before started to come back. This was totally out of character, was I having some sort of wobble, have I got depression or am I just looking for a few weeks off work? I decided I needed to speak to my doctor. That was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. For me to actually go and see a doctor about this was massive. It wouldn’t look good on record so I was extremely reluctant to make the call to the surgery. But I did. At the time I was, but I am not ashamed to say it, I did shed a few tears in the doctors surgery. It was a very difficult meeting and probably the hardest one I have ever had. Even worse than my Parkinson’s diagnosis. Mental health, although better nowadays was for me a taboo subject and the fact that I was now being told by a doctor I have mental health issues was devastating for me. He signed me off for 2 weeks, we discussed anti-depressants which I very quickly declined. He did however prescribe some beta blockers to help calm me down which I was reasonably happy to take.
I called Karen at work and told her I’d been signed off which I think was a shock to her. We discussed it more when she came home from work but from what I remember it was a difficult conversation and although I don’t think she will ever admit it, I am pretty dam sure at the time she was thinking that I was pulling a fast one and just wanted some time off work. During the following few weeks I was beginning to think the same, I didn’t touch any alcohol, I went on a few walks by myself and all in all felt at peace. Maybe this is all that I needed, a battery charging break. Myself and Karen also went to Rome for a long weekend during this period which was fantastic. In total I had 3 weeks off work and felt a lot better for it. The most difficult thing was going back and explaining what had been wrong. Nobody asked, it was just a case of welcome back Ian and onto the business items of the day. Easy. I’m fixed.
Little did I know it at the time, my previous left leg weakness, my inability to improve my fitness levels and this bout of anxiety\depression were indeed Parkinson’s symptoms starting to creep into my life.
The next few months passed without incident really. Work was different though, previously I’d been seen as a safe pair of hands, I was invited to the important meetings, I was involved in the big stuff of the day. Now I wasn’t, I was suddenly on the edges and just going through the motions. The thing is I wasn’t actually bothered, I was even grateful to a certain degree for having an easier time. It’s fair to say I was just doing enough to keep my head above water, if I could put something off until tomorrow, I would. This was not me, I don’t consider myself educated or that intelligent but I do have a great work ethic and because of that it has enabled me to be successful whilst lacking in the education department. For me and looking back on it this was a classic case of the stigma attached to mental health in the workplace.
Myself and Karen went to Corfu for a week in the September of 2015. The weather was glorious and we had really relaxing week off work. However during the week and unbeknown to Karen I had a few dark thoughts creeping in during the few days at the end of the holiday. The anxiety and dread crept into my thoughts about going back to work. Basically I didn’t want to go back but there was nothing I could do about it. I decided that the previous bout of anxiety and depression was a complete one off and I just needed to man up. However once I was back at work the feelings would not go away, they were constantly there tapping away in my head. After being back at work a week I decided to go back to the doctors and ask for antidepressants. Anything was better than feeling like this.
I can’t remember the exact drug I was prescribed, think it was called Sertraline or something but what I can remember is that it didn’t like me. I felt like I was having an outer body experience, it was awful. I had to go back to the doctors to address the issue. It was then I was signed off and changed the prescription to something that made me feel even worse. I was now not in a good place, I was feeling like crap, being used as some sort of anti-depressant drug Guinea pig and as far as I was concerned my career was as good as over. Mr Parkinson was certainly tightening his grip. In total during that period I was off work for about a month. Things were never the same at work but I decided to do something about it and move to a slightly different role in another team which I will talk more about in my next blog.
Parkinson’s had well and truly arrived but I didn’t know it. It did leave me alone for a while after the second bout of depression but it would come with much more vigour next time but this time in disguise…….
To be continued