I admit it. I get a little emotional when I talk about work, home life and my wife’s cancer treatment. Sometimes I feel guilty when I do because I don’t want people to think I’m consumed by family life, but my wife is pretty amazing. My wife, Tricia, has undergone so much in the last six months, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In February this year, the day after her birthday, it was confirmed and she underwent surgery over the Easter holiday when coronavirus restricted our movements and COVID-19 had its greatest impact, creating fear and uncertainty in all our lives. As if cancer, COVID-19 and cash worries weren’t enough, I was now the carer, looking after everything, even our then 11 month old puppy, Ruby, a yellow Labrador.
So, you could imagine, I was emotional.
Back then [only four months, but feels like six years ago] I was happily and passionately working as the only design assistant in NELFT, with a heavy creative workload and helping to deliver COVID-19 communications work with a small, but versatile communications team. Being agile, working from home and being focussed on delivering creative design work , I felt I could cope with juggling my career, caring for Tricia and her cancer treatment.
But I was emotional, and I cried a lot.
I was unable to express my emotional stress, unable to say what and how Tricia’s cancer treatment affected me. Could I cope with caring for her, the dog and work all at the same time?
It was then, when working on some literature for Talking Therapies, that I knew I needed counselling. Talking Therapies has always been supported by NELFT. As COVID-19 rammed home our isolation, it was making matters worse for Tricia and I, as we were instructed to not only isolate, but to shield ourselves from the impact coronavirus had. We were cut off: emotionally, physically and effectively cut off from everyone. Friends, family – everyone.
The Health & Wellbeing team were advising of the Talking Therapies counselling, to help us cope with the stress of life, so I gave them a ring. I had a telephone assessment booked. Even that made things better, as I could talk to Tricia about the offer of help, encouraging her to talk to me about her fears of the chemotherapy treatment she was about to start. We cried a lot. We were completely devastated and overwhelmed with fear and anger and sadness. We cried many tears together at night, holding Ruby, and we understood that life as we knew it would never be the same again. Yet, we constantly said we loved each other through long hospital stays, late-night tears and set-backs.
I love my work as much as I love Tricia and walking Ruby. When I was happily creating some artwork for a NELFT project, I had a feeling of dread when Tricia cried out and said she was having bad reactions to some particular cancer treatment she was undergoing that day. Thankfully, working from my home office meant I was on hand and jumped right in to assist. After a long discussion with the oncology team at Addenbrookes Hospital, we called 999 and an ambulance came to take Tricia away. The photo of Ruby says it all. Ruby and I were alone, coping with cancer, coronavirus and we were trapped at home. Thankfully I find working clears my head, creativity calms me and I love solving design problems, so I resumed work, working my way through the stress of life. Then, when work finished for the day, I could do an easy walk with Ruby around the field, walking off the stress.
The next day I had a call from the Talking Therapies counsellor, Josaline, and she managed to work through and peel back my anxieties. I was deemed to have borderline depression and anxiety. She managed, over a number of sessions, to raise the consciousness of issues and significance of what was happening to us, experiences that were affecting me physically. She helped me to look back deeper into my thoughts and raise them into my current awareness. It worked because I wanted it to work. It helped to have a clinical person relate to my worries and fears, sharing those thoughts to put them into order myself. I have now, three of four sessions on, negated all signs of depression and freely express my anxiety to friends, family and work colleagues. It helps me share the anxiety, allowing me to feel part of a collective support group.
It helps when I offer free pet portraits to NELFT NHS colleagues, allowing me to share my passion for drawing and helping them share the love they have for pets at home or at work. Being creative, whether writing, gardening or drawing, helps me to relax and de-stress. This unconscious flow, bringing thoughts onto the ‘now’ allows me to lose track of time, so removing me from the stresses of life. Did you know that stress accounts for an amazing 45% of all days lost to ill health. My personal view is that creativity helps, and that people who regularly have an artistic hobby have a higher overall life satisfaction than those that don’t. My work as a creative and my creative hobbies help me relax and allow me to escape from the stresses of life, and actually helps me work and think differently, as my work colleagues know. As Shelly Carson said in the book ‘Your Creative Brain’: “We quit thinking about our own fears and stressors and focus on what is novel and original. If we do this frequently, we can train our brains to automatically explore rather than avoid.”
I know my issues over caring for Tricia and Ruby are unique to me, with great joy and deepest heartaches, but with the help of others I cherish it.
Life has thrown us more than its fair share of surprises, hardships, tragedies and extraordinary days. Tricia and I have faced so much that could have shattered our marriage, yet Tricia and Ruby have been the rock I can build myself up on. Thanks to Talking Therapies, the communications team, and NELFT, I am the best I can be. For that I am very grateful. Life is tragic, messy and chaotic and beautiful, but with the right support, we can live and love life to the full.
Good web links are:
Tricia and Ruby Rose in ‘Gods Little Acre’, our garden in Newport, Essex