Trigger Warning – Suicide
I want to start this off by saying that this is my experience, my story, and is all my own opinions.
Today I was scrolling through my twitter and I saw a post by The Stroke Association about the mental health impacts of a stroke. Whilst it was something I wasn’t aware there were resources for, I was well aware of the far reaching mental health consequences of a stroke not just for the survivor of a stroke, but also their families.
It makes sense really, it’s often a huge, life-altering event. It can be hard for everyone to adjust afterwards, especially if those effects are permanent. When I was 15, very nearly 16, my Dad had a stroke.
The night it happened is still etched into my mind. I remember the paramedics waking me up when they came to the house in the middle of the night. I remember my mum telling me to go back to bed, that everything was okay. I remember knowing that things were very definitely not okay. I remember sitting up until 7 in the morning with my little brother, both of us alone, not knowing what was going on as my Mum had gone with my Dad to the hospital.
I remember my Mum coming home and telling us it was a stroke. I remember us discussing all the outcomes, trying to be cheerful and laughing about the possible idea that Dad would get a cool bed downstairs that had loads of buttons to press. I remember the undercurrent of the fact we weren’t actually sure that he would survive to come home at all.
My 16th birthday was spent visiting my Dad in the hospital, where my birthday present from him was some leftover cheese and crackers from his lunch. He couldn’t even wish me happy birthday, because all he was capable of saying was “half an hour,” and a rather impressive collection of swear words.
My Dad’s stroke was bad. Like really bad. He was in the hospital for months, including a short trip back to ICU after he contracted an infection. He never regained the use of his right arm, only had limited use of his right leg, and his entire speech and language was screwed up. For a very proud man who had always done physical work, this was hard for him. In fact, I don’t think he ever truly accepted the impacts of his stroke.
After his stroke he struggled, he wanted to do everything he had done before, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t just him that struggled after his stroke, my Mum did too. She ended up moving out because she couldn’t cope anymore.
After that life got harder. It was just me, my Dad, and my brother, and after a few months my brother ended up going to live with my Mum. Then it was just me and my Dad. I moved away to university, and then it was just my Dad. I don’t think I truly saw the depth of the mental health impacts of a stroke until it was too late.
After my Mum left my Dad went to the doctors, they prescribed him anti-depressants, but he refused to take them because he was so stubborn. I’m not sure if they offered him any kind of therapy, I don’t know if they would have done because of his poor communication skills, but I doubt he would have accepted it anyway. He was brought up in the kind of environment where talking about feelings was definitely not encouraged.
My Dad ended up killing himself. Not in the traditional sense, it certainly would have never been ruled as a suicide. His cause of death was another stroke. A stroke caused most likely by an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and a heavy smoking and drinking habit.
He knew the risk of what he was doing, but he’d just given up. He was lying to his doctors about how much he was drinking and smoking, despite my Uncle’s best efforts to try get him medical help. He was still trying to pretend he was fine after I’d helped him up when he’d fallen over because he was drunk and ended up wetting himself.
It ended up being a bit like a ticking time-bomb. I knew the phone call to tell me he’d had another stroke would come at some point, and I knew it was likely to be sooner rather than later. Whilst I was away at uni my biggest fear was that he’d die alone, and I wouldn’t find out until a lot later. It almost came true. I got a phone call while I was in a lecture one day to tell me that my Dad was in ICU after he’d had a second stroke. I knew that was it.
My Dad’s stroke had more than just an impact on his mental health. It impacted all of us. I watched him slowly destroy himself, and then I sat by his bedside as he was dying. I lost my Dad at 21, and that was hard. Some days I still feel guilty that maybe if I’d have done more he wouldn’t have had his second stroke, that maybe I could have done more to support him.
We all had to adjust to a new way of life after his stroke, and now we have to adjust to life without him. It’s not easy, and some days it feels like it’s impossible. I’d do anything to have my Dad back for one more day, one more hour. And instead of getting annoyed when he asks me a thousand and one questions about my personal life, I’d appreciate that it was his way of showing how much he cared about me and what I was doing.