Christmas 1990….

Three days before Christmas 1990, my world was about to change. My parents had gone to the local hospital, as Dad had been unwell in the previous few weeks. Some tests had been done and the results were now available. The news could not have come at a worse time.

Dad was given the news that he had three months to live. He had an aggressive cancer of the oesophagus that prevented him from keeping any food down. His weight had started to reduce. I, of course, broke down and unashamedly wept. Three months and Dad will be gone. I was only 18 at the time and we were very close. That Christmas was very surreal and unhappy for me. Wouldn’t you be if you received that kind of news?

Dad managed to last another four months, but a once fit and healthy man was now reduced to a shadow by the illness and endless rounds of chemotherapy. I hated seeing him just wasting away to nothing, and I got angry at the fact that cancer was to claim another good person in life. Why him? I’ve never received the answer. All I can say is I hope I don’t go through what we went through, unable to eat and drink and gradually becoming weaker by the day. But his spirit got him through seven months.

They say time is a great healer and it’s been 25 and a half years since he passed on. But to be left without a father at the age of 18 was something I couldn’t get to grips with. His wise advice and calmness would have helped me through some difficult moments, but that is a hypothetical statement now. He watches over me and he is never far from my thoughts, even at Christmas. Dad was taken away from us far too early.

Allen Brooks xx

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Laudable…but is it too little, too late?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42194524

I found this story on the BBC News website this morning and it brings home a subject very close to my heart.

I’ve spent some of the last couple of years visiting local schools and performing presentations on mental health. One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. To me, it’s important to start early and impress on youngsters why it is important to have good mental health. The workshops we performed brought in fantastic testimonies from the schools and one or two disclosures. The youngsters felt they could disclose in us.

Disclosures. A service should be available NOW in all schools for children who may think they have the beginnings of mental illness. They then could be signposted onto professional services for further help. Making that first step is always the most difficult.

So the article above details a Government plan to have some kind of assistance put in 25% of schools by 2022. Why then? Why not now? And 25%? It should be in all schools, but as we all know, finance and resources are always a stumbling block.

I would go a stage further and have mental health on the national curriculum for say an hour a week for all pupils. These sessions could see local people come in, people with lived experience, and maybe some professionals too, to detail what goes on with mental illness. What are the signs? Who do we turn to? and other such questions.

I’m all for schemes to improve the lives of those about to become adults. I’m all for Governments of whatever persuasion to pour in money to help those in need. But is it too little, too late? We need to stop the rate of suicides in people between the ages of 13-18. Any life that you or I can save is a real fillip to those in need. I would like to see more done, and for people like me who are still under secondary mental health services, I would like to give back some more to the stars of tomorrow.

Thanks for dropping by,

Allen Brooks xx

Not the same man again….

My late father gave great service to the country, first of all as a soldier in the Second World War, and then as an employee of a local company for 31 years. He did shift work, and eventually became a senior manager. All was well in his world….

Until August 1981. The Royal Wedding celebrations had finished and we had come back from our holiday in Eastbourne. Then as we turned the key in the door of our maisonette and opened it, there was an envelope on the doormat. As we put our cases down, Dad picked up the envelope and opened it. There was silence for a few moments and then he announced “The company are relocating and are looking to make me redundant”. That dreaded word….redundant. Services no longer required.

It was at the time of economic stress and strain nationwide. The previous year, Dad’s company gave him a carriage clock for 30 years service. This was now the knife to the heart of a proud man. 55 years of age and still 10 years left of his working life. Thrown on the scrapheap.

We didn’t relocate, and Dad reluctantly took the redundancy and the financial package. From that point, his health and his mental well being, strong despite his cigarette habit, started to deteriorate quite rapidly. The man who had always religiously gone to work and did all the shifts, now started to become a shadow of his former self. The following year he had a minor stroke, and had to give up cigarettes, then he had to have a bypass performed in his stomach.

Dad fell apart quite quickly. Looking back, though he tried to never let on, his mental well being took a real hit, never to recover. 31 years of hard graft, ended very abruptly. Within 10 years, the mental and physical wear and tear finally ended his wonderful life. I didn’t understand too much about this at the time, but time allows me perspective and opportunity to look at reasons as to why he went downhill.

So 1981 was a momentous year in more ways than one, and the Brooks family had to deal with the fallout of that fateful August day, the envelope on the mat. It has stuck in my mind, and it will never go away.

Allen Brooks xx

Helping me process difficult things…

Something has just occurred to me. Some of the posts I put on here are happenings from the past. Some people would say that the past is the past, stuff that has happened cannot be changed and we all need to move on.

But this is very cathartic. By getting my thoughts down on the blog, recalling the good and bad times from my life, I’m able to enjoy the good memories and process the bad ones. I’m able to see what went wrong, to recall it lucidly and to then run it over in my mind and move on from that. I can then move on to the next good moment that is about to happen, I can put those bad memories in a compartment in my mind and close it. It may be an accidental process, but it seems to be working. Here we are, just over a month from Christmas, and so far, I seem to be dealing with the attentions of the time of the year quite well, so far, I must qualify.

So to give people advice, who are thinking of writing a blog to chronicle their thoughts, you are doing the right thing. To process, to deal with those bad memories, you are sharing with others, to improve your own way of dealing with the brickbats that are regularly thrown at us. As I said, it’s an accidental process, but it’s helping me currently. I hope it can help you too.

Thanks for dropping by,

Allen Brooks xx

The day of the funeral….

June 2010. It was a time of change in the UK. The sitting government, led by Gordon Brown, had lost it’s majority at the General Election and was replaced by a coalition, led by Conservative leader David Cameron.

It was also a time of change for Allen Brooks too. My 79 year old mother lost her fight for life, and the funeral to celebrate her life was imminent.

The hiatus between her death and the funeral itself was surreal. The trauma hadn’t quite sunk in yet. The days leading up to the funeral seemed to drag. 

Then the day itself. It was typically funeral type weather, grey and drizzly. I put on my best suit and got in the car, my mind still having not processed the events. I had to do a eulogy to the assembled throng, and to that point, my experience of public speaking was limited and unremarkable to say the least. 

Myself and sister had chosen some of Mum’s favourite music, from the superb rock band, Queen, including the very apt song, The Show Must Go On. The service and the burial went by in a blur. I did my eulogy, no doubt mumbling my way through, but the emotions were being kept in, for now. 

As we were leaving the church, the CD playing The Show Must Go On broke down. This caused some amusement amongst the mourners, and I made a comment about Mum buying a cheap CD. The final committal saw an outpouring of emotions from everyone, including me. The day was still grey and drizzly, and we went back to sister’s house for the wake.

It went ok. Grief and bereavement are strange bedfellows. No one can put a time limit on how long you grieve. Time, as they say, is a great healer. There are times now when the memories are still fresh, other times, the events of 2010 stay in the back of the mind. But the death of a loved one is one of the most stressful life events anyone can go through. The finality, the realisation that they’re not there anymore. But as Queen and Freddie Mercury said, The Show Must Go On. That’s how I’ve had to deal with life in the intervening seven years.

Allen Brooks xx

Elvis has left the building…

Summer of 1977. 1977 was an interesting year. Elvis Presley died, England regained the Ashes from Australia, Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, and a quite appalling summer for weather were all noteworthy events of that particular year.

My parents had a beach hut in Frinton-On-Sea, Essex. Yes, the East Coast of England that gets lapped by the freezing cold waters of the North Sea. We decided to visit this very salubrious part of the world for our annual holiday.

I was only 5 at the time. Still with the uncombed mop of dark hair. We stayed in a local guest house, and due to the appalling weather, we spent more time in the guest house than out of it. 

I remember, and have the photos to prove it, sitting on Frinton beach, on my mother’s knee. There were storm clouds all around and a keen wind was scattering everything in sight, including the windbreak and my mother’s hairstyle. Not a day for beach weather, but we braved it.

It was also the summer that the king of Rock and Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley, died a very sad and premature death. The papers and the TV news were full of the news. Also that year, gale force winds saw several boats capsized in the Fastnet yacht race off the southern coast of Ireland. Those events put our wet and windy travels in some kind of perspective.

Then it was time to make our way to the local station for our journey home. Suitcases in tow, we walked the three quarters of a mile to get our train to London. Another adventure finished. School started in a few weeks. Not something to look forward to, and with good reason. 

So that was 1977. Elvis definitely had left the building….

Allen Brooks xx

Gilt off the Gingerbread…

The other day I was over the moon, that the presentation I did was well delivered and received. Today, however, was indicative of how one can return to earth with a large thud.

Today, I was attending a training day at this London based mental health charity. To summarise, we discussed mental health conditions, services and how we deal with callers ringing in to the helpline service.

That was all fine, I could deal with those topics and was able to make a contribution, after all, I have lived experience and am able to draw on that. I may not always be right, but I do have knowledge of my own problems, and those of others, to a point. Knowledge is power.

Where it all fell apart was a role play exercise. I played the part of a caller ringing in to the helpline, another member of the group was the volunteer/listener. I had a script to work from, and this is where I felt decidedly uncomfortable and incredibly anxious. The script, not to put too fine a point on it, was very uncomfortably close to my own problems. 

I had five minutes to speak, and the more it went on, the worse I was feeling. I was glad when it ended, because I was very close to breaking down. The group member listening was fantastic, and I wouldn’t have any hesitation in talking to her if I rang the helpline. She listened intently, demonstrated great empathy and tried to point me in the right direction. She fulfilled her part of the bargain, I came up very short.

The emotions were bubbling to the surface, and I had to leave the room. I couldn’t face being the listener to her caller in return, I was gone at this point. One of the facilitators came out and chatted to me to take my mind off the subject. That did help, but the confidence I demonstrated pre-role play exercise had dissipated and I sat, rather glum and reflective, for the remainder of the session.

Thankfully, I will not be partaking in volunteering for the helpline. I don’t think, with my recent issues, that trying to reassure callers in distress is my bag, so to speak. I have put myself down to do some work online and some admin; dealing with distressing issues is beyond me, quite frankly. 

One thing the experience told me is that any confidence and aptitude I showed up to now, has been knocked. I tried to wind down with a meal and a drink in a local pub, but coming back on the train saw my mind still turning over the events of the day. Good at some things, rubbish on others. And you wonder why I’m anxious? 

So time for reflection and a good night’s sleep. I feel mentally exhausted and need some recharging of the over wound mind. Looking forward to bed and a hopefully relaxing Sunday.

That’s all. See you soon.

Allen Brooks xx