Allowing my pain to become my power – A personal story
Author: Michelle Denness
Wife, mother to three incredible kids and aspiring writer/poet.
I am passionate about sharing personal stories to empower others and this space is for me to be open and free with my thoughts.
This is my journey...
“The prisoner, having reached the depth of his depression, gradually reawakens to the life around him. He licks himself and his wounded pride, opens his eyes, and finds that far away on the horizon there is still a ray of sunlight left.” – P. H. Newman
There was no ray of sunshine left for my father, in-fact his mind was far, far away and damaged beyond all comprehensibility.
I stood staring at the door.
Fight or flight at its finest…
I looked towards my Mother for some sort of reassurance, but she had none to give. How could she? She was going out of her mind with fear. Those few seconds felt like pandemonium in my frightened little mind, not knowing what to do next. It was the ultimate of dilemas;
Open the door and she might die?
Stay where I was, relatively safe and he might die!
There was still no sound at all from the outside of our room and it was eerily quiet. With every ounce of courage I could muster up, I pulled the door open.
My father was lying naked and completely out of it, having collapsed on the bathroom floor.
I don’t know why he was naked!
I thought he was dead and my mother’s natural nursing instincts kicked in ready to save his life and she checked for his breathing.
Not this time.
He was still breathing.
It was my first experience of seeing the male anatomy and I had no time to feel shock or embarrassment. It seemed insignificant.
And yet it was significant for the 13 year old, who was too young to witness that.
The drugs were taking there toll on my fathers body and he was an absolute mess. His head was floppy and rolling from one side to the other and his face looked blown up with being so swollen. His hair was grey and looked frantic and his belly was solid with bloated-ness.
This was my Dad.
This was the poor, fractured little boy with his ravaged mind living in the sick body of a grown up man.
All these things and yet none of them too.
He never ever left the prison camp.
His mind became his own prison.
My mother said his name loudly several times trying to rouse him into standing up and together we hauled his massive body upwards and he would slump back down again.
He was a big, heavy man.
Eventually he began muttering a slurry of nonsense words in his heavily confused state and we managed to get him up on his feet. He was able to take some of his own weight and we walked him to my bedroom.
My Father laid down on my bed and my Mother covered him up.
I kissed his cheek and left him to sleep.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
How I wish with all my heart that I held him tight that early Sunday morning and whispered ‘I love you Dad’ in his ear.
To love a person is to see all of their magic and to remind them of it when they have forgotten.
There is a space in between a quiet place serene so still. The stillness is laden with sorrow and remembering what was, the sadness of what could have been and the reality of what is. Who am I now? is a question that I ask on this merry go round of a fragmented life, love and accountability. Am I lost in the stillness? Can the sorrow be released? Am I bold enough to own my beauty and serve the sorrow with endearment?
Oh how my playing with words can free this weary mind for a while and breathe life on to my plain paper.
I could hear him banging around in the kitchen preparing his next available powerful supressant, those tiny little pills that that took him some place else.
I don’t remember if he made his sandwich that night!
My mother was shaking, colour drained from her face, terrified he was going to come back into the room and finish what he started. She literally didn’t know what to do with herself and must have felt like a trapped animal.
I know I did.
The front door to the street was closer to us than him and we could have made a run for it but we didn’t.
I realise now how strong and brave the 13 year old part of me was.
At that point there was no question of leaving him. My mother had always taken her vows seriously;
In sickness and in health.
He was a sick man, she was a trained nurse and you never leave a sick patient.
My father took himself off up stairs and I can’t seem to recall exactly what happened next but I do remember him telling me that he would sleep in my bed and I was to sleep in with Mum. It would safer for us.
He looked directly into my eyes and said;
“Lock the door and keep it locked. Barricade it if you have to because if you don’t I will kill your Mother.”
He must have passed out because it went quiet for a short while.
My Mother and I were in seperate beds in my parents bedroom. I just remember feeling sick in my stomach absolutely terrified and I know its a word that I have used consistently throughout my writing but its true, I was terrified. We couldn’t sleep through fear of him breaking down the door to get to her and it felt like there was no way out. We were trapped and waiting once again for the onslaught.
As the night went on there was movement outside of the bedroom door, I think he was in and out of the bathroom and his drugged up condition created his drunken-like stupor.
We didn’t sleep.
I don’t remember us talking much either.
I wonder now, where my dog was?
Again, I wanted to run to get help, get out of there but I couldn’t.
I couldn’t go through that door.
Remember the door–the metaphor for my life.
I have been stuck behind that Door for 38 fucking years.
The hours seemed endless, waiting for the sun to rise and for him to be less agitated. My hope was that things would look different in the morning and that he would be different too. Maybe sorry for his actions and willing to get some help for his addiction.
We all needed so much help but no one was coming to help us.
In the early hours of the morning a mighty loud crash came from the other side of the wall where the bathroom was.
I sat bolt upright and got out of bed. Creeping quietly towards the wall, I pressed my ear gently against it fearful of him knowing that we were awake.
I couldn’t hear anything.
Neither of us knew what had happened and I remember distinctly that my bladder needed emptying.
I feel compelled to write about a little girl I know who lost her Daddy suddenly, nearly a year ago.
This morning, she is unable to access the outside world because grief is her opponent and grief is winning.
She sits on the sofa with her pet dog, wrapped in soft blankets. To the left of her, close by are her Dad’s ashes – which, she says with slight confusion, are much smaller than the ashes of Fidget! Her recently deceased, much loved pussy cat.
She is 12 years old.
Her strength has the capacity to withstand the mightiest of storms. Her wit can enthrall an audience of listeners and her smile lights up the darkest of rooms and yet…
her heart is fractured.
Over the years, her survival techniques have pushed the closet of people away, often hurting them to release some of the burden that she carried. At times she unacceptably played the role of scapegoat when other children could do no wrong.
Trying to find a way back from the self destruction was so terribly difficult for her and although she longed to be accepted and forgiven, the path was somewhat difficult.
She really didn’t want to hurt others… just to show them how much she was hurting.
The pattern became familiar until it was a safe pattern of knowing and by that I mean she knew how to fill up other people’s convincer strategies of who she was and what she was about.
It really wasn’t true.
This child with her fractured heart is hurting and there aren’t enough words to describe the pain that she is in.
I feel the depth of an unforgiving, relentless and unbearable grief that she is carrying and trying to make sense of. I know that there are questions that she will be asking internally that can not be answered now, but still she carries them. There are days when the world forgets about this little girl and her struggles and I guess that is just a part of life.
Life carries on.
Grief carries on.
When a child loses a parent their whole experience of the world changes. When the death is sudden, no time to say goodbye, no time for a last hug, cuddle, giggle, sharing of stories, anything.
Just left with an ocean of overwhelming loss.
To the education system who lack the knowledge of how to help these children emotionally, day to day within their school life, please take the time to train your staff appropriately. Give them the tools that are so desperately needed to assist these kids.
To the education system who refuses to understand that there are days when these children cannot and will not be able to access the school day because grief will take over.
Let them be children who need time to grieve not an attendance statistic.
To all you Mums and Dads out there that are struggling with loss, please please know that you are doing an amazing job and ask for help if you need it. The earlier the intervention, the more a child can begin to work through and begin to process the trauma.
I am so very proud to know you and I am grateful to be able to walk alongside you and your Mum throughout your journey. Thank you for re-connecting with me and allowing a certain trust to begin to build between us. You are the most resilient child that I know and one day you too will rise up and show the world who you truly are.
With taking his evening medication, my father would sprinkle salt on two slices of bread and butter and then make them into a sandwich.
Who does that?
His days were spent in terrible physical pain and his night’s were plagued with horrendous nightmares – the kind that forced his body into a soaking wet sweat. That’s where the drugs came in and did their job of knocking him out into an unconcious state, often appearing dead with a cold and bluish complexion.
I wonder where he travelled in his sleep?
I wonder if he ever was able to access peace beyond the realms of being awake?
I hope so.
I have painted such a bad picture of the man I called my father and that’s not really the truth of it all. He was a good man and a very sick man, that’s the paradox. There is so much to write about him and the pain he must have endured as a child, also the rejection he sufferred from trying to tell his story and having it ignored.
Maybe that’s why it is so important for me to tell mine!
The atrocities he experienced from the age of 4 until 7 in a prisoner of war camp scarred his young mind and was enough to damage his life and the lives of the peoplehe loved. There have been many times when I have felt so desperate to see him again – to hold him close and tell him that I understand, tell him that I love him so much and tell him its okay.
I don’t know if he is resting?
He deserves to rest…
You see, we all have the power to judge another as my father was judged by his family, doctors, neighbours etc… everyone had something to say but never really gave him the time to begin to wonder why he behaved the way he did or even to try and unravel his pain.
I give people time to unravel.
I guess in that day and age it was just easier to shut him up with medication and send him on his way which ultimately, killed his body.
I can never justify his actions but I can always choose love over hate and ignorance.
The doctor that plied my father with drugs was stuck off some years later. He was well known for over prescribing medications for his patients.
It’s 1.54am in the morning and I have been lying here for the past two hours unable to sleep and thought I would write about my eventful day yesterday.
I was booked in for a Hysteroscopy and arrived at the day surgery ward at 11.10am feeling fairly relaxed and ready to get it over with. The booking in clerk told me that I was last on the list and added that it was going to be a long afternoon’s wait.
Armed with 3 second hand Hellomagazines and an iphone, I was directed to my designated cubicle for the duration.
And what a long day it was…
Three nurses along with a healthcare assistant ran the show absolutely rushed off their feet all day long. Different uniformed people flowed in and out of the ward but the nurses (and their voices) were the faces that became familiar throughout the day.
The first check I had was the normal blood pressure, temperature, questions etc and of course the‘tagging’ to make sure they operate on the right person and the right bit of my body!
This nurse started her shift at 6.45am.
An hour or so later and 3 magazines done (I only like the pictures) the Anesthetist came and had a chat. Throughout the conversation and the legal warnings that have to be said, he constantly held the cheekiest smile upon his face. It seems that any given moment he could have burst out laughing which in turn made me smile and banter along with him.
I signed his consent form.
Next came the Gynecologist who wasn’t the consultant named on my admittance form and with him two trainee doctors. He was tall and slim with a wispy grey moustache wearing all beige. My friend katie and I have a long standing joke between us that whilst she chooses vibrant exciting colours, I go for, and in her very own words ‘beige dear‘ time and time again. It always makes us laugh so I figured that was a good sign.
I signed his consent form too.
It wasn’t too long after the beige man’s visit that the young trainee doctor returned with a request. He asked if it would be okay to examine me?
“What right now?”
His face coloured a little red and he replied with a;
“No! I mean when you are in the operating theatre.”
I asked him why and he explained that after the Gynecologist had completed his task, he would like to take a look too and that it would help him to learn. The young man looked around the age of 19 I’m not kidding and I proceeded to ask him what year of learning he was currently in and he replied year 4.
Anything in the form of education is a must from my belief so I agreed and signed yet another consent form.
One by one the patients on the list were taken away. It used to be that you would undress in your cubicle, put your theatre gown on and hop up on to the wheeled bed.
Oh how things have changed…
With an aching back and numb bum through all of the sitting around, my time finally came.
Yet again, more of the same questions just to treble check and then a lovey nurse led me down to the theatre by foot; porter and trolley in hot persuit behind us.
After stripping off and gowning up I was then allowed to get on to my bed and was pushed in to see the happy anesthetist.
At this point, I stop smiling and so did he – things aren’t so funny anymore!
I look away as he attempts his first cannula in my right hand;
“Sharp scratch” he says, “nothing to worry about” and then, “oh no its ruptured.”
The anesthetist has another go in my right arm and the flow of fluid is incorrect, so it has to be taken out. His third attempt is in my left hand and after much banging and squeezing and the use of a tourniquet, fails.
At this point my legs had started to shake uncontrolably and I was freezing cold.
The not so smiley anesthetist begins his fourth attempt when the theatre nurse politely reminds him that he is not allowed to try again as he fumbles at my arm suggesting it will be fine and we all need to calm down.
Protocol is three attempts and then call for a consultant anesthetist.
Another one is called and my whole body is now shaking.
I started to breathe deeply trying desperately to calm myself down because at this point I was super anxious about what was happening. My body seemed to be disconnected from my mind for a period of time as I struggled to control the shaking even though I knew that it was totally possible to get myself in to a relaxed state.
I just couldn’t calm down. My old familiar friend fear, took over…
Two more people arrived in the tiny room so that made six altogether. They were talking amoungst themselves about the problem and how they were going to manage me.
“Her veins are very weak,” was one comment, we could try…. and at that point the shaking at risen to my whole face with my teeth unable to keep up with the rythym of the rest of my body. They tried to keep me warm by laying a warm blanket over my feet.
Just my feet if I may add and it appeared heavy and uncomfortable so I asked them to remove it.
Did they forget about the rest of my body?
The Consultant Anesthetist spoke very calmly and whilst rubbing my right arm. He stated that everybody in the room needed to calm down especially me and at that it was all fine, he will get the cannula in no problem.
At this point I was ready to run.
Remember! I am a runner it’s my normal pattern of trying to escape – I couldn’t run anywhere I just had to stay and face to onset of massive fear. I prayed silently in my head yet again and hoped that someone was on call to help me and I attempted to surrender the fear over to anyone who was willing to take it from me; God, Dad even Alan.
Was anybody on call that day?
This smooth dark skinned, soft speaking anesthetist had three goes and this time in my left arm twice, with his last attempt in my left foot (the nurse told me that this one would sting a little more than the others).
Really!!! Do you think?
And what a surprise, none of the cannula’s were successful.
This man suggested that the ONLY other way of getting the cannula is was to insert it into my NECK to which I told him directly NO WAY you are not touching my neck.
At this point my vocal chords had kicked in. I told them all that I believed that everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason was that I wasn’t mean’t to have this operation at this point in time. The anesthetist replied with; “that’s a great way at looking at things,” – Oh please…
I also told them that I was freezing and that fact wasn’t helping me as my whole boy shook in front of them.
A few suggestions were made with a few other’s in disagreement and I said loudly that if they can’t do it the normal way then I was leaving and they could wheel me back to the ward.
So in comes the number 3 consultant anesthetist (not sure whether his title should have capital letter’s or not?) because at this stage I was losing the will to live… get me outta here! He brought with him another Dr, male nurse or even another ANESTHETIST – who bloody knows who the extra male person is at this point because I didn’t, he wasn’t introduced.
That makes 8 medical’s in the room now.
This man was stockier than the others and had a bald head. He said in a competent loud foreign accent; “Hello there, whats all this fuss about then?”
I politely told him that this was the last attempt (number 7) that any one of them was going to have, as they clearly can not sort the problem out and I’d had enough. He agreed with me and asked if it was okay to try just one more time?
Holding back the tears, I agreed.
The man who came in with him, held my right arm very tightly in a downward direction whilst the anesthetist put his glasses on. I gasped a sigh of relief due to the fact that he was the only one wearing glasses and told the the audience of medical staff and they all laughed.
Glad I could oblige.
He used an Ultra Scan machine to try and find an appropriate vein.
“Ahh!” he said, “a big beautiful vein” and the man who came in with him tied a tournaquet around the arm and the bald headed anesthetist pushed the cannula in with success.
You see! (literally) It was all about the glasses…
I was in that little room for about 45 minutes before they were able to sedate me and after the operation, my eyes were already in tears before I opened them in recovery.
Bless the male nurse who looked after me in the recovery room who confirmed that I’d had a rough time in there… and that it was all over now. He gave me a sip of water and a mouthful of Oramorph.
After what seemed about only ten minutes, I was wheeled back to where my day had begun and given two bits of dry toast on a plate with some butter and a knife.
Looking back now, I am sure that if they had just placed the warm blanket on my arm for a while a nice vein would have been ready for the impending cannula. When my father in-law was going through his chemo treatment the nurse always warmed his arm first because she found it difficult to get the cannula in so the warming up process served a great purpose.
I wonder if any lessons weren’t learn’t that day by the medical staff?
Maybe they all need to get there eyes tested might be one of them?
The nurse that booked me in, in the morning was the same nurse that signed me out in the evening and at that point her shift was 13.5 hours long.