Depending on how you look at it, three years ago today was either the day I hit rock bottom or the day I started to turn my life around. Either way it didn’t feel like that at the time. It was a mixture of pain, confusion and discomfort.
I had spent the previous five days in bed – literally. With occasional trips downstairs, some of which took nearly fifteen minutes and all my strength to execute. I had been sweating – going through three of four sets of clothes a day. Shivering. In pain. Exhausted. Feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. I’d never had the flu but I’d heard about it and assumed that is what I had. I had developed a new-found respect for the flu.
Dr J called out the GP on day two who diagnosed the flu. Relieved, I stayed in bed to sweat it out – and boy did I sweat. Paracetamol after paracetamol relieved some of the pain but untimely hid the most telling symptom of what was happening. The pain in my chest – excruciating when not dulled – was the tell tale sign of the punemoia that it took the doctors less than five minutes to diagnose when I eventually landed in hospital. By day five I was still running an unbearable fever – I had soaked a second bed in sweat – and still felt like a depot of buses have ran me over. A second GP home visit followed – thanks to the insistence of my darling wife – who, alongside nursing me, was looking after Miss J, only nine months old. GP #2 diagnosed gall stones (try not to laugh please!). In her defence the yellowness in my eyes -which can be a sign of gall stones – was a sign of the strain being felt by my kidneys.
I was sent off to A&E. To this day I will never know how, but I drove myself to the hospital. I have absolutely no memory of that journey – I could hardly walk let alone drive – but I do remember nearly falling over getting through the automatic doors of the hospital. In my then state of mind anything was possible. I had denied how I really felt and what was possible to put up with for so long. I didn’t wait long to be seen – I guess it didn’t take a genius to see I was not in great shape. I was wearing tracksuit bottoms – a good choice in the 6pm December cold – several layers and a big coat but I was cold. I could feel the draft through the reception every time the door opened. In what would become for me one of the cruelest examples of the mess my work life balance had become I received several aggressive, ugly text messages from a Partner I worked with at PwC – despite telling him I couldn’t really respond properly at that time as I was in hospital sick. He kept texting me. I kept feeling cold.
When I was seen by the doctor in A&E he said “so you think you have gall stones?”. Puzzled looks all around. He was prepared he said to place money on it being pneumonia but would wait for the blood results to confirm it. They did. They were – this I will never forget – “deranged”. I now knew it wasn’t just my blood.
I was then made the kind offer of a bed. “No thanks”, I said, “I want to go home to my wife and baby. She is only a baby”. He was very calm and gentle but said that he couldn’t make me stay but if I went home he’d be certain I would return tomorrow – in an ambulance. I’d never been in hospital before – except for a fractured wrist – never stayed overnight. Never really been sick. I acquiesced. I cried. It was far from the last tears over those next few days and the next three years as I came to realise what had really been happening and what I had become. I was admitted and put on a drip straight away. I was really scared. I thought that I might die. I know that sounds ridiculous but I really thought I might die. And die alone in this hospital. I cried again.
Although it is painful to recall even now with so much water passed under the bridge and so many changes made to my life and approach to life – I want to get to the point. My five day stay in hospital is a book in itself, including being attacked with a bottle by a fellow patient whilst I sat on my bed minding my own business! I discharged myself in the end to get home – I was physically improving but mentally deteriorating and could not bear another minute away from my little girl. I hadn’t seen her for all that time and wowed I would never be away from her for any real time again. I just wanted to be at home with my girls to just be close to them. The separation – I was only just down the road but might as well have been in another country – was heartbreaking. In my fragile emotional state this was almost too much too bear. As was watching Liverpool losing to Man United – which I unhappily watch on my iPad from my hospital bed!
The reason for this reflection today is not to retell every moment of that day three years ago – or the days that followed but to mark a turning point. To draw a line. I didn’t know it then. I didn’t know it for some time. But as well as being in the middle of a nasty bout of pneumonia, brought on by exhaustion due to working too hard and stress levels that broke me, I was in the early stages of a breakdown that would last for months. A breakdown which has changed my life forever and has led me to make huge changes.
I will reflect more over the coming days but today – as I sit and write this – I want to remember the world of pain I was in back then – the agony. I don’t minimise what happened to me or what I subsequently went through; I don’t dismiss some of the things that drove me to the edge of my health and beyond; I don’t consider myself now a winner in this battle. I simply am grateful that I had my best friend alongside me for the journey and our daughter to remind me that life is too short; too short for pain; for agonies; for tears. It is three years on. Jesus. Three years since I started to get a grip.
If you had asked me in the days before I was struck down with my flu whether there was anything wrong and anything that needed changing I would have confidently batted that away – I had my story off pat. I had a narrative. A message. Work was challenging, yes – intense even – but enjoyable. I had a plan. I was going to make Partner. I had it all mapped out. I had the balance right. It was tough but I was doing it and doing it my way. What lies. What horrendous, risible lies. What a mess. A mess that started to come to a head three years ago today. Three years ago. Three long years.
The photo was taken today by my darling wife – it is the most content I have felt in as long as I knew what that meant – truly meant. I work at it every day but seeing this picture made me smile – and not just at my hair!