This is a hard one to write.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last six months or so, whether to wade in or not. With a week to go before the 2017 general election I feel I have no choice.
This election feels different to me. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 and yet none of them seemed to count quite as much as this one. It is the first time in my voting life that I think my vote will actually count, it may contribute in a minute way to a badly needed change.
My last post seemed to reach quite a few people, it was a strange few days! With that in mind, I’ve had to think long and hard about this, people actually read blog posts apparently, which is why this post is kind of scary.
Back in January of this year, my mum died. Her name was Susan Hartshorn. She was 65. Her start in life was tough, working class, state educated, grew up in care in a suburb of Leeds. She went on to work as a psychiatric nurse at The Bethlehem Royal Hospital, working with teenagers with eating disorders. She was a grafter, compassionate, not bitter, forward thinking and a feminist. After my brother and I were born her life unravelled. Her Dad died suddenly, she found herself alone, a new mum in a new town – my Dad out providing for the family. Her tough years as a kid had finally taken a toll and caught up with her, she was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. My brother and I were 10 and 13. What happened next was a blur. Several years of police call-outs, suicide attempts, ambulances, violent episodes, sectioning orders, hospitals that smelt weird, odd silences, lack of sleep and whispered conversations. Amongst the horror of mental illness were GCSE’s and family holidays, soft moments of Sunday afternoon BBQ’s and trips to museums and garden centres. My mum and dad did all that they could to give my brother and I ‘normal’.
Fast forward a few years, I had my own family. Two boisterous boys, my mum loved being their Nana. We even lived with her for a year or so when we moved north from Oxford. We couldn’t afford to live in the South, sky-high rents and a fluctuating income do not mix well! My mum sold her flat and bought a house we all lived in. It was tough, but am so glad that we had that time of peace with my mum. The kids were small, it was a flurry of bath times and books, toddling about and jam smeared on the table. My mum loved every second.
Her illness was managed at this time with a cocktail of drugs, drugs for the mental illness, drugs for the side effects, drugs for the depression, drugs for the anxiety.
As we found our own affordable (just!) home, my mums physical health began to suffer. 20 years on Lithium tends to piss your body off a bit. This was back in 2010. Her CPN (Community Practice Nurse) stopped coming round. Cuts you see. She became increasingly dependant on TV for comfort. She would come to our house a few times a week, if she was able to get dressed and wasn’t feeling too low that day. Around this time I became ill too. I have something called Crohn’s Disease and Ankylosing Spondylitis, they are auto-immune diseases. My mum’s health continued to worsen, often having small mental episodes – I would leave voicemails for the mental health team.
Life for me had changed – having to adapt to my new life was tough for all of us, in so many way. Financially there was no help – either caring for my mum or looking after myself. My husband had to be flexible, allowing for my fluctuating condition until I was on treatment. Financially we suffered and just about coped. My mum did not. Her physical symptoms.. what later turned out to be Kidney Disease.. worsened. She was falling over a lot, turning up at our house with black eyes and bruised knees. She saw a psychiatrist once every few months, her GP every so often. The rest is unclear. The nature of mental illness is that so often you don’t ask for help, even from the people you are closest to. It was apparent at this point that there was no net. I spent a frantic summer last year calling around the various agencies involved in my mum’s care, whilst simultaneously unable to walk myself. I was stunned that someone could just be left like this, for months and months. The red tape and bureaucracy of our health care system and our social care system is a horror to witness. The lack of staff, the lack of resources, no joined up thinking, but above all the total lack of understanding and compassion for someone with a life long mental illness.
On Christmas eve my mum had a fall outside her house. The people that had done my mums risk assessment had put handles on her front door to prevent this happening – she fell, on to concrete, by her back door, where there were no handles. She had been wrapping Christmas presents, and had popped out in her pyjamas to put the rubbish in the bin. We found her, covered in mud, barely conscious and freezing cold. 5 weeks later she died in hospital from a pulmonary embolism and DVT. The horror of her stay in hospital will be something that we will never forget. Her death and treatment is now the subject of an inquest. However this happened, it is a tragedy, for us as a family and for the people that she affected in her life.
Why am I writing about this now? Am I using my mum’s tragic death to score a political point? Yes, I absolutely am! It’s a point worth drilling home until people realise the consequences of who they vote for. There were many, many mistakes made throughout my mums life and care. I believe passionately in our NHS. I believe in humanity. I believe that no matter who you are or where you are from, that tragedy can happen when you least expect it to. I have seen so many cold and callous things online in the last few weeks, from the left and the right of politics. We all need to take a step back from time to time and remember that behind every statistic is a person, with a story and a past or a future. Every poll we read, every article we share, every click, every tweet, means something. It means life or death for actual real people, thousands of people.
It is our society, we employ them, we pay them, they work for us – the collective us, not just you. One day you will need there to be a net, or someone you know will need there to be a net. We have evolved from jungle rules, only the toughest survive haven’t we? I’m no political expert, but think I’ve experienced some things in life that qualify me to have an opinion on survival. Survival is not just about money and things and a house and a car. It’s about staying alive, staying afloat both physically and mentally. 1 in 4 people in the UK have experienced some form of mental illness, some are lucky and come through the darkness, some do not. The government have a huge part to play in this, it’s not about awareness or campaigns on twitter, it’s about the right resources, training and funding so that the net catches as many people as possible. One day someone you love might fall through that net.
I’ve heard lots in the last few weeks about a strong economy, about growth and GDP and debt. I’ve sat on my hands and tried hard to not wade in on conversations. I know what I have experienced and seen in actual real life, and the impact that Tory austerity has had, my mums story is common, it’s not a one off. Yes ‘living within our means’ is obviously a good thing, but some people aren’t living at all. And yes, I do lay the blame squarely at the feet of this government.
We need a party of compassion leading the charge in this country, a party that understands that life is complex, we don’t fit in neat little boxes. For me this time, more than any other time, that party is Labour. For you it may be someone else. I don’t judge, we all come from different perspectives in life.
If you take anything away from this blog, please let it be this: Behind every person you speak to, in real life or on the internet, is a story, a history, full of drama, tragedy and triumph. We are complex creatures, we need compassion to become part of our decision making process, both in our political opinions and in our everyday lives. Please allow yourself to vote with your heart as well as your head, vote for tomorrow as well as today.