Aged 70, I'm a carer for my son who suffers with depression

When my son told me, in 2015, that he had planned to take his life, but had changed his mind at the last moment, I was at a complete loss for what to say.

Everything that I thought I knew about my son had been shattered, in that one moment of time. I felt that in his own way he was trying to protect me, but this bolt from the blue shocked me to the core. 

Life, of course, wasn’t always this way. My family started, like many others, with a wonderful husband and very soon, two beautiful sons.

As they grew up, one became confident and made friends easily, while the other was quiet and sensitive. 

School wasn’t a problem for the eldest as he made friends easily, but we couldn’t say the same about his younger brother, Shaun, who was bullied relentlessly and became a nervous sad little boy.

We watched his confidence ebb away as he dragged himself to school, often telling us that he felt quite unwell, hoping that we would keep him at home.

Verbal bullying took its toll and he soon felt worthless and alone with his mental struggles.

I made several visits to the school in an attempt to put a stop to his ill treatment, but had no success. 

A teacher pledged to keep an eye on him, but Shaun later told me this made things worse.  

His problems continued into adult life as he tried to find his niche as a carer only to be attacked by a service user who pinned him against the wall and tried to strangle him. 

His mental health problems became very apparent as his paranoia made it difficult for him to leave the house and when he tried, the panic attacks took over, leaving him paralysed and in a very dark place.

As a mother, I wanted to say everything would be alright but I couldn’t truly help my broken son – after my husband died in 2010 Shaun lost his dad and his best friend and his problems truly came to a head.

In 2015, with Shaun still living at home with me and his older brother, we realised how much help we needed.

After discussions with the local authority, my eldest son and I worked with a council helper to care for Shaun. 

Unfortunately, Shaun struggled again.

When he decided to kill himself in 2019, he wrote letters to all his friends explaining that he couldn’t go on but he wanted them to know that they shouldn’t feel bad as it was his decision and they couldn’t have done anything to stop him. 

A sense of complete worthlessness and the feeling of being a burden had made him make that decision.

As he lingered for a moment before attempting to take his own life, the sun came out and his face became warm.

As he looked around, he saw the beauty all around him and thought he would leave it for another day, I only know this because Shaun talks things through with us much more than he used to. I’m grateful for how these difficult discussions can help us as a family.

Knowing what to say and do to bring him out of the depths of despair is very difficult as he often speaks of suicide in a matter-of-fact way as the only way out for him. 

Because of the unpredictability of the illness, I am always on high alert, waiting for his next episode, which might take him to the edge of despair.

This leaves me to look at my own mental health, talking with friends and finding comfort in my Christian faith, while finding the help I need as a carer to carry on helping him all I can.

The Carers Count in Kirklees has been a great help to me, as has the Carers Mental Health Group that I am a part of and other carers groups.

Knowing that at any time my son could take his life has made me quite paranoid and I seem to be always looking to see if any signs of distress are surfacing.

Having attempted suicide twice I know it is always on his mind and I find myself desperately looking for ways that I can help. While hopefully praying that he doesn’t try again.

It’s a bit like a ticking time bomb and there is nothing that I can do about it. You may think that it is a very selfish act to kill yourself but other sufferers as well as my son will tell you that the illness takes over their lives and it can sometimes seem the only option to them.

He is at present getting the help that he needs from an excellent GP and he talks over his problems much more candidly with his brother and I.

Listening isn’t easy for someone who cares but it is very necessary if we are to help our charges to get through their darkest days.

It feels sometimes like I’m on a roller coaster, hanging on with my fingertips to the edge of the seat, while praying I will get down safely with my charge.

At 70 years of age with health problems of my own, I sometimes worry about how he would cope without me and I’m sure other carers think the same way. It is something that we can’t envisage so we push it to the back of our minds for another day.

As we all take each day as it comes while living on edge.

Shaun is a carer who can no longer care so he wrote his first book during lockdown to hopefully help himself and other sufferers get what they need to carry on. Its title is A Gentle Breeze – it can be found on Amazon books.

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