Back again at long last. I’ve got myself up to date, had a fairly good rest and given some thought to how I want to approach my book as blog. Frankly, I don’t just want to write about my life because I don’t think it’s that important, I’d like to talk about the lessons I’ve learned along the way in the hope it’ll help others.
For example, the interesting thing I noticed when I was dealing with my father’s alcoholism in Boonah was how many people approached me for readings with similar problems. The reality is that, if someone has an addiction problem, there’s nothing you can do until they decide to take action themselves. However, saying that and doing it are two different things when you love people. That’s what happened with my relationship with my father.
In case you’re wondering, I decided to start on this subject with fibromyalgia, because I’ve lived with it for nigh-on fifteen years now and, while I’ve had my little break from writing, I have had heaps of material about fibro drop in my life or come across many people going through the challenges of fibro like myself. It turned up in my life at a time when I was being hyper-active and also trying to cope with my father’s alcoholism. So I thought I’d look at that period in my life and how fibromyalgia had made its presence felt.
The fly in the ointment of our improved life in Boonah, if I can put it like that, was my father’s descent into rampant alcoholism and a chaotic life. He had finally bought a home in a village close to Boonah and we used to visit once or twice a week while Dad dropped in. His personal situation deteriorated as his drinking increased. He would start the day with a shot of brandy/whisky/rum and things would go downhill from there. We would go over to see him in the mornings as he would be reasonably sober, but never in the afternoons as he would be aggressive and very unpleasant.
Dad was manipulating, conniving, sly, aggressive and getting to be as mad as a March hare. So things got even more stressful as Dad’s alcoholism got worse and worse, something I hadn’t believed was possible but, yes, it was. His house was filthy and shambolic, and his life was beginning to generate into chaos. I simply didn’t know how to handle it but felt the need to stay in touch.
Many people asked me why I hung around for my father, and still do, for that matter. Firstly, our family had a history of being cut off from each other. I’d lost touch with my mother’s side of my family after her death. But when we lived in Canterbury my grandfather suddenly decided to disown Dad, and his whole family – mother, sister and other relatives – followed suit. We never quite knew why but I felt like I didn’t want to continue this sort of action. The cutting off pattern need to, well, be cut off!
I also know that Dad had not been treated kindly as a kid. He had been the middle child and the overlooked one. His elder brother, John, was the favourite, and his younger sister, Patricia, was also a favoured child. I remember Dad remarking to me once: “My parents used to say: ‘Here’s John, our eldest son, and here’s Tricia, our daughter. Oh, and this is Richard”. There was a pause, and then he remarked sadly: “No-one should treat their child like that.” Dad was very intelligent, was offered the opportunity to go on to higher education but my grandparents decided they couldn’t afford it. The unspoken knowledge was always that that, had it been the eldest son, there’s no doubt they would have found the ways and means because he was St John, even after his death in World War 11.
I’ll take the time here too to remind people that, when you have kids, they are all gifts into your life. Treating them equally and loving them equally, if you have more than one kid, is the best gift you can give them. Making a child feel that they are considered less by you is no way to treat a child and it’s no wonder that, when kids find themselves in that sort of situation in their family, they can end up quite damaged.
I could feel Dad’s pain and knew he’d been deeply hurt as a child. From the stories of his childhood, when his parents were dirt poor in the Depression, I knew that he had tried desperately to ingratiate himself with his family and it hadn’t worked. He was always the outsider. Mind you, I have to be honest, he was a cantankerous, bitter man and difficult to get on with, so it wasn’t always on the part of his parents. You can learn from childhood challenges and live from the higher aspect of your being, or you can choose to live with the negative. I also stayed in touch and felt the need to be there for my father as he had nursed my mother at home as she was dying of lung cancer. He did a brilliant job to ensure she could die in her own home and not in hospital surroundings. So I figured he had some good karma from that and I owed him some for his care of Mum in her last days.
There was additional stress too as Bryan didn’t really go a bundle on my sudden leap into the metaphysical realms. He’s very logical and down-to-earth, plus he was pining to return to the UK to be closer to his family. I had one very serious bout of bronchitis again, and I know exactly the emotional circumstances which triggered it off although I don’t want to go into details here. But I began to feel desperately tired and lethargic. I never really recovered full health after my accident when I broke my leg and ankle, and having a raging infection when I went into hospital probably didn’t help either.
I know exactly when I realised something was seriously amiss. I walked out of a shopping centre we used to visit close to Ipswich on a very hot day and as I emerged through the doors, I felt enormous pain in my hips and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I don’t know how I got to the car, I found the only way I could move forward was to swing my hips from side to side to get my legs to move forward too.
I started getting great itchy lumps on my arms in the middle of the night. I began to spend many a long night sitting up with ice on my arms as it was the only thing which seemed to reduce the itching and swelling. At first I tried tea-tree oil and then lavender essential oil but all that happened was that the welt on one arm exploded and started spreading like wildfire up to my shoulder.
I was terrified as I had no idea what was happening. The itchy welts started spreading, on my upper thighs, belly and back. They’d flare up, die down then re-appear elsewhere. The trouble was that the local doctor in a rural community is always busy so that, by the time I could get an appointment, the welts had died down and couldn’t be identified. As well the fatigue got worse and worse. I remember once that I was on the way to a workshop in a rural area on a very hot day and stopped to get petrol. I felt as if someone had opened a valve in my solar plexus so that all the energy had drained out. To get to the office to pay for the petrol was an extreme effort on my part. I managed to drive to the venue, run the workshop but pretty much collapsed of heat exhaustion on the way home. I had to call out ambulance officers who managed to calm me down, rehydrated me and reassure me that my pounding heart was due to palpitations and the heat, not a heart attack.
Eventually I had to stop work. I could hardly get out of bed and was forced to lie on the sofa most of
the day, feeling I had fog in my head so that I couldn’t think straight. I did see one doctor who was an absolute joke and a disgrace to the medical profession as he virtually told me I was lying and that, just by looking at me, that he could tell I could go and get a job if I wanted as a supermarket assistant or in a petrol forecourt. This, mind you, was after my telling him I couldn’t even walk the short distance to the hospital and had had to drive. I finally got a referral to a rheumatologist in Ipswich who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia.
I had never heard of this, and I suppose I was rather laid-back, thinking it was going to pass over quite quickly. I’m a glass half-full type of person and in the same way I thought Bryan’s Ross River virus episode would waft over him and gently fade away. Only it didn’t. And neither did the fibromyalgia for me. As I said earlier, I still have it nearly fifteen years down the track.
At first, I tried to bluff my way through it. I kept going in the belief that, if there’s a brick wall, you smash your way through it. I tried this many times and found that the only thing that happened was that the wall didn’t break and I bounced off it to end flat on my back. Each time I’d be back to square one with absolute exhaustion, fog in my head and feeling seriously depressed as if the end of the world was going to turn up the next day. Eventually I learned that the best thing was not to try to beat my body into submission because it had a mind of its own. I had to slow right down and do only half of what I thought I could do. And if I had good days I had to learn not to go bonkers and run all over the place, but to take things easy and conserve my energy.
I had to give up trying to work as the fibromyalgia was very painful and the big, blotchy, itchy spots used to erupt whenever I got a bit tired. The exhaustion used to leave me back at square one: lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and enveloped in brain fog (one of fibro’s symptoms). I’d get bouts of depression I know call “The Glums” but I learned to accept the old saying: “This too will pass” and know that I’d need to be patient until I’d wake up one day and wonder why I’d felt so down in the dumps.
Coping with Dad in the house next door was hard too. In hospital he’d been Mr Charming, conning people into believing he would take up gardening and go fishing. But from long experience I knew this was “Gunnadoo” and was never done. It was all in Dad’s head as he’d lost whatever get up and go he’d ever had.
While he was in hospital, Bryan had cleaned his house, tidied up the garden area, and packed and moved all his gear into our downstairs area to keep it safe. The house was absolutely filthy: the lamps we thought were amber were in fact clear but they’d been coated in dust and cigarette smoke; the carpet was so dusty and filled with cigarette ash as Dad just flicked his ash on the carpet when he smoked that it too changed from dark brown to a quite pleasant colour underneath; he kitchen floor was coated in thick grease and dirt which Bryan had to clean on his hands and knees for two days.
The same filthy habits continued in the rented house next door. Dad would simply flick his cigarette ash on the floor, the fridge was filled with food going off, and the plants kindly provided by a hospital worker withered and died. The drinking had resumed, the black moods were back, and I was a nervous wreck with high blood pressure and attacks of heart palpitations.
One night we could see that something was going on in Dad’s house as the curtains kept moving, lights going on and off, and bangs and crashes sounding. In the end I went up, got entry through the side door and found Dad in his underpants rolling around on the floor blind drunk. I can tell you, to see the father you used to love and respect in such a degraded state was really, really hard. I was terribly upset and scared he’d hurt himself.
He shouted for us to lift him but we refused as he was too heavy. We called the ambulance service but Dad was crafty, he knew that if he was on the floor they could take him to hospital but if he was upright, they couldn’t touch him. So he pulled himself into a chair by the time they turned up, sat there smoking a cigarette smugly, and refusing to go to bed to put my mind at rest. The ambulance officers were great as I apologised for calling them out but they reassured me that it was fine, it would go on the records and anyway they were already acquainted with him so he had a history of drunken behaviour.
Their prior knowledge of Dad came when they helped remove his from his home when the hospital had taken him there to assess his ability to live independently. I told them they were making a huge mistake but it seemed to me that no-one believes relatives. Dad got to the house, staggered inside, lurched around the empty place and refused to come out. He was there for most of the day, Bryan stayed to keep an eye on him and told me to go home for my health’s sake.
It got to the stage where we were looking at the police arresting him and taking him to a psychiatric institution. We decided to call the ambulance service to see if they could help and they were brilliant. They spent ages with Dad, talking to him and calming him down, and finally convincing him to return to the hospital. I thought, and still do think, that they are miracle workers and angels!
After the rolling around on the floor episode, though, Bryan sat me down and told me I had to look after myself and let Dad live the consequences of his own behaviour. He could con people with his charm, and sound quite normal when he was sober, so that I felt people were looking at me as the Wicked Daughter as I tried to explain what his alcoholic existence was like. Bryan knew how Dad treated me and what the real situation was like with this aggressive, bullying drunk, and it helped me retain my sanity when people seemed to believe Dad’s bullshit.
But I realised Bryan was right, something had snapped the previous night as I’d begged and pleaded with him to go to bed and he’d sat there smoking looking smug and so very pleased with himself. I acknowledged I was getting sick as I tried to maintain a relationship with this dysfunctional man. And so I decided to cut off contact altogether. It was quite weird living next door to my father and not having any contact. On the other hand, it was a huge relief as I started taking care of myself and, as I did so, my blood pressure dropped and my scary palpitation episodes died down too.
In my next post, I’ll be looking at our decision to return to the UK but also dishing up some ideas about fibromyalgia, how I’ve coped and what I’ve learned from this unlovely visitor to my body.