I retired from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust at the end of April 2017. It was time to take a rest and continue my fight against Parkinson’s on a more local platform. I honestly felt I had done my bit. Don’t get me wrong, there are many who fight all the way but, for me, it was the right decision at the right time. Like an ageing sportsman, I wanted to leave whilst I still had something left in the tank. I wanted people asking why I had perhaps retired early rather than wondering why I was still dragging on.
I’m not sure whether I actually achieved that but people made kind remarks and for the most part it seemed like a good idea. More time to spend with the kids, more time to do all those things I wanted to return to – glass art, photography and so on. Who knows, maybe even a little bit of cricket. Time to enjoy the fruits of retirement while I still could. An opportunity to steal time back from the Parkinson’s and to put that time to alternative uses.
It all looked brilliant when I drew up the plan in my head. And for the first few months, it looked pretty brilliant in practice. I would wake up in the morning and ask myself what I wanted to do that day. There were no rules. If the sun was shining, I might take my camera out and do some photography. If the weather was inclement, I could enjoy doing some stained-glass. Or writing. I had always promised myself that I had a novel in me. Maybe now was the time to write it.
But gradually and rather insidiously, opportunity and enthusiasm were somehow transmogrified into indecision and apathy. You can have too much choice. As Bruce Springsteen said of American television it was a case of “57 channels and nothing on”. It felt the same to me. Instead of springing out of bed ready for the days excitement, I was dragging myself up. Household chores usually swiftly dismissed to allow me the whole day of interest soon expanded to fill the time. And if I didn’t get dressed at all some days, it was no big deal. And where’s the harm in a bit of daytime television.
On the whole I disguised it well. Not even my best friends were aware. Often they were going through problems themselves. And you can only shoulder just so many burdens.
Although I didn’t at the time, I recognise it now for what it was and can call it by its name. Depression. For months I rationalised my inertia, mental fogginess, bad temper and anhedonia as a simple product of ageing. A stage I went through. Nothing more. It would all right itself given time I imagined. I didn’t look for solutions because mostly I didn’t believe there was a problem. And, as any psychiatrist will tell you, getting patients to recognise that something is wrong is the first step on the road to improvement. Sometimes you have to reach rock bottom before the only way truly is up.
Rock bottom for me was one afternoon when I found myself, still in my pyjamas, watching the Jeremy Kyle show. But then of course that would be rock bottom for pretty much anyone. Jeremy Kyle I mean, not the pyjamas.
It was like a slap in the face. I had to do something. Something decisive before I descended into the abyss of daytime television and self-loathing. I started by switching off Jeremy. Silence. No screaming, no punches thrown, no sanctimonious claptrap from the host. Just peace.
At least it was a start.
(To be continued)