Tag Archives: States of Deliberation

Things to do before you die

Dying Matters

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week, starting on the 12th May until the 18th, it aims to get people talking about death and encourages us to make provision for one of the certainties in life, its end.

As with many of these campaign weeks, the national media have been running stories to coincide with the events and I was personally surprised to read the following story on the bbc website showing that so few of us have made arrangements concerning our end of life. The details are there for anyone to read, but if I simply restate here that only 21% of respondents to a survey state that they’ve discussed their end of life arrangements, I think the problem becomes clear given that 100% will die.

Here in Guernsey there’s a wonderful campaign underway this week with the pop up shop in Smith Street taken over for the campaign and the arts commission have installed a Before I Die…. wall in the market. All geared to get people talking about, and making, end of life arrangements.

I’ve never quite felt comfortable about the term “end of life” as I always thought it was a nice way of saying “death”, but I’ve now come to realise that it’s about a lot more than the final act of death. Dying, for many people, is a process that takes time and what the campaign is asking of us is not simply to arrange our funeral and write a will, important though they might be, but to also discuss our long term care should we become incapable of making those decisions ourselves.

In the UK people may choose to write what is colloquially known as a living will, or if you’ve been watching a little too much American drama, an advance directive. This is particularly timely, as the States will be discussing a requête by Deputy Perrot (turn to page 193) when we’re finished debating the transport strategy. The requête seeks the introduction of an Enduring Power of Attorney, the ability to decide in advance of losing capacity what arrangements you’d like to put in place for that day, should it happen. This is only a small part of what is required in terms of capacity legislation, but will assist many people in determining their health care requirements in advance of losing the capacity to do so. The obvious beneficiaries will be those who go on to develop dementia, or those that suffer enduring mental health conditions that cause them to lose capacity for short periods of time.

I’m very supportive of the requête and will vote accordingly, my hope being that people will complete an Enduring Power of Attorney at the same time that they write a will, or to have the opportunity of writing one when they’ve first been diagnosed with some form of dementia. It’s important that we afford people the choice of deciding their future care needs.

An Enduring Power of Attorney would also assist HSSD in their care of people. I’m sure it will come as no surprise, now you know there’s no advanced directive available in law here, that certain care decisions become difficult for the professional carers. Doctors, nurses and social workers can find themselves in the eye of a family feud with no basis in law to fulfil what is the patient’s wishes. This is a situation we surely can’t allow to continue.
I sincerely hope the requête will be successful  and the law introduced swiftly.

On a personal note, I’m surprised people don’t talk about dying. It may be me or it may be a Welsh thing, but death is not a difficult discussion around the dinner table with the family. Well maybe not the dinner table, but I was back in Wales a couple of weeks ago and I had an evening meal with my sister and her family. After dinner the discussion moved at one point to our choices of hymns for our funerals and where we’d like to be buried. It wasn’t a depressing conversation, it was rather affirming to have such a discussion and understand why we’d both chosen our respective burial plots. It was interesting how we’d both moved from being in favour of cremation to burial. We had a good laugh about our choice of hymn and her incredulity as to how catholic I was compared to her protestant position. It was a fun evening with plenty of laughter and shows that difficult conversations can be had whilst enjoying yourself.

Having written all the above, I suppose I should also confess to being someone who hasn’t yet written a will, something that’s particularly important given that I’m in a long term relationship and haven’t married. I haven’t made proper arrangements to be an organ donor. I therefore pledge to deal with these issues this week. Hopefully a number of people will do the same, after all, if not this week, when?

The one thing we can all be sure of is dying. All of us probably know of a family that have torn themselves apart over a lack of a will. All of us probably know someone who’s had, or is currently suffering dementia, do we know if they’re receiving the care they would have wished? If you’ve attended as many funerals as I have you’ll also have seen exactly what you don’t want for your funeral and maybe some things that you do want.

Can I suggest that you give yourself a gift of ensuring you have a voice in your long term care and funeral arrangements. I’m arranging mine this week.

Seasonal Affective Dissorder

SAD

Yesterday I read a tweet from @itvchanneltv highlighting the issue of seasonal affective dissorder (SAD). It was concerning what Guernsey Mind were doing to highlight this problem. The story is available here should you wish to read it.

Last year the States of Deliberation discussed the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy that we would implement and it was during that debate I revealed my own mental health issue of having SAD. The speech I gave is available on my website should anyone be interested, but what I wanted to talk about in this post was my experience of SAD and how it hampered my life, career and relationships until I was diagnosed and treated.

The Mind UK Website describes SAD as follows:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it is normal to feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, if you experience SAD, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
Most people experience SAD during the winter. Less commonly, some people find that they experience SAD in reverse – with depressive symptoms occurring in summer.

and I would recommend anyone concerned to have a look at the rest of the website to understand what the signs of SAD are and what options are available for its treatment.

The first thing I’d like to say in relation to my own experience is that I simply didn’t think I had a problem. I displayed very erratic behaviour, frequently confrontational and in hindsight I can confirm that I was irrational. But at the time I simply thought that I was right and that the other person was wrong. I would even go so far as to justify my behaviour and refuse to listen when someone criticised.

There’s one occasion that I’d like to recount here. I was working on the IT service desk in a finance company, answering the phone and trying to resolve the problems of the company’s users. It became evident that the number of people phoning the service desk had reduced considerably, but when we did receive a call the person was either exceptionally irate or very timid. It was only when my managers discussed this with various people in the company that it became evident I was being rude and difficult when people phoned, to the point where they wouldn’t even risk phoning for assistance (for anyone working in IT, this doesn’t make for a good IT strategy).

A few examples were when people had forgotten their password, I’d ask them if they’d manage to forget their credit card pin number. When someone told me that they’d done something and it no longer works I told them that it was their fault and that they’d get lower priority because of stupidity. One person asked for different access rights to their computer, I promptly told them that it simply wasn’t possible, even if they were the MD (and it was).
I’d like to highlight these as the worst examples. I was capable of excellent work as well, taking on the most difficult members of staff and their issues and resolving them to everyone’s satisfaction. Undertaking fairly large projects successfully with good user engagement and buy in. It was this bizarre dichotomy that led to my managers failing to understand why I would be so difficult one day and so calm the next.

Without me even noticing, the problem of my attitude was affecting the IT department’s engagement with the company. There was even one occasion when I remember shouting at a member of staff in the middle of the floor, something I still cringe at when I think about it now, but at the time, as I said previously, considered this behaviour to be acceptable and rational.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d had such problems at work, but the difference on this occasion was my manager’s engagement with me about the problem. Rather than call me into an office and give me a dressing down, I was advised that they’d like me to see the Learning & Development officer. I undertook a test to assess my behaviour and then had a discussion. It was through discussing matters with him I slowly came to realise that this was irrational and destructive behaviour. I learned about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and realised that I needed to take ownership, not only for my actions, but also for the way other people perceive my actions (still working on this by the way).

It was as a result of this approach and further discussions I came to realise I had depression, but that it wasn’t constant. I saw my GP who offered anti depressants, but I thought it was worth making some lifestyle changes and exploring alternatives before starting on a course of Seroxat.

The behaviour that I displayed at this work place was no different to the behaviour I’d displayed in previous workplaces. I am known for having gone from one job to another over a period of around 13 years, some jobs lasting a year or less, with me always leaving because of annoyance. I’d wager that each and every one of my former colleagues, from a number of employers, would be able to recount a string of occasions when I was difficult, argumentative and even down right rude. The difference on this occasion was the approach of the management, they wanted to engage with me to resolve the issues rather than confront me about my issues.

I started making changes to my life, eating a more healthy diet, exercising more frequently and lowering the alcoholic intake, but that in and of itself wasn’t sufficient to deal with my health issue. I now take St John’s Wort every winter and I manage my symptoms well, I can honestly say that I don’t recognise the person I was. I’ve also learnt to recognise when I start to behave in the old way and take remedial action before things go too far. This usually starts anytime from September through to November depending on how good the summer was.

Now, when I look back, I notice that the workplace wasn’t the only place I had a problem. There were occasions at home when I would become argumentative to the point of insufferable. Getting out of bed was simply an exhausting task that I can’t really describe how awful it was. I would eat large quantities of bread and cereal craving carbohydrates and neglecting all other food groups. I would resort to alcohol on frequent occasions, feeling that having a drink somehow made me feel better about the awful day and allowing me to relax from the anxiety I felt (only to feel worse the next day). There were days when I would be racked with guilt and anxiety about something I’d said or done in the past, from the previous day spanning back to my childhood. There were occasions when I’d simply cry uncontrollably and try to lock myself away. There were the days off work with illness, both physical and sheer mental exhaustion or anguish. Finally there were the odd occasions where I simply wish I wasn’t here, had never been, those were the darkest days of all.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a lot of these behaviours made the situation worse. If you do eat badly, drink lots of alcohol and refuse to leave the house you’re likely to get worse. They allowed me to enter into a personal vicious cycle of self destruction. It also wasn’t advisable for anyone close to confront the problem since I would lash out at them as much as anyone else.

I look back and I can’t believe how bad things were. But now that I have set myself a set of rules for diet, drink, exercise and the daily dose of St John’s Wort it’s all manageable. There are the odd occasions when I notice I’ve stayed in bed too long, drank too much, eaten nothing green for a few days, have been a little argumentative or felt a welling up of emotions that result in my crying, but I recognise the problem and correct the situation. Instead of months of destructive behaviour I now have a couple of weeks a year when I don’t feel too well, but know that I’ll be fine in a few days.

In relation to my work, I know that I had a poor sickness record and that my productivity in winter was bad (to say the least). Once I started treating the issue, my sick days became virtually non existent, my productivity soared and I enjoyed the prospect of going to work again.

Given all of the above, I suppose I’m sharing this for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly I’d like to assist Guernsey Mind in highlighting this particular issue.
  • Secondly, those who may have SAD should know you can change things and manage the situation so that you enjoy life a lot more, no one should feel it acceptable to write off six months of the year for the rest of their lives, the first step is to recognise the problem.
  • Thirdly, I’d like to advise employers that if someone displays erratic behaviour, work with the person to resolve the issues, nothing could be worse than confronting the person and asking them to explain their behaviour.
    For more on this, Guernsey Mind have a wonderful training course that they offer to managers and employers to assist them in identifying and working with people who have mental health issues. Guernsey Mind are running a workshop on the 17th January next year so please contact them to book your place. When I identified my issue and treated it, my sick days became vanishingly small and my productivity soared, something every employer wishes of their staff.

The last thing that I wanted to say was sorry to all those people I worked with and had to put up with my behaviour; and a very big thank you to those managers and colleagues who helped me identify the problem and deal with it. My life now is almost unrecognisable to those years when I allowed SAD to rule my winter, that happened because of people whom I’m no longer in touch with, but to whom I’ll always be grateful.

THANK YOU

Given my reference to my taking of St John’s Wort I’d like to clarify that this works for me but may not work for everybody. I’d recommend anyone thinking of taking it to discuss it with their GP and do the research, a good place to start is the Mind UK website. I’m more than content to discuss both SAD and St John’s Wort with anyone who’d like to, but I can only offer my personal experience and direct them to the best service and research.