When the carer becomes the care-ee…

“I’m having a bad day,” texts Martha. When I get home I give her a hug and say, “I think there might be something wrong with your engine, I’m going to have to check your oil with my dipstick,” and she laughs. And then I say the thing that she’s been longing to hear all day:

“Do you want to go to bed?”

This has everything to do with her recharging her batteries and nothing to do with me discharging mine – I will the keep the kids between the ditches for a few hours.

A few years ago, we were meeting with one of our daughter Sophie’s therapists, and she asked that one question that is guaranteed to make you almost cry, and definitely lie:

“And how are you two doing?”

“Fine,” said Martha, with a wobble in her voice.
“Grand,” I said, with a quiver.

“And what supports do you have?”

Martha explained that she has taken Lexapro, an anti-depressant, for nearly ten years, and that recently she had been going to counselling. This is because she suffers from chronic depression and a debilitating sleep condition called Idiopathic Hypersomnia.

“And what about you, Aidan?” asked the therapist.

“I…emmm…do musical comedy,” I said. This is because the only thing I’ve ever really suffered from is an excessive need for public affirmation, until recently…

…I was lying on the couch. It was the day that Ireland won the Grand Slam, and I was crying, but it wasn’t those tears we all cry because we all just love Johnny Sexton too much: I was suffering from exhaustion.

I’m not sure if it’s her autism, or if it’s just that Sophie has inherited my ability to function on not much sleep, but she has always tested my limits. For years, I’ve responded to her waking up in the early hours, and staying awake until school time, like Withnail responds to his drug dealer: “Bastard, I could take double what you can take.” And I have, because she’d generally only wake like that once a week or so.

But then, a few months ago, my ten-year-old torturer started stringing these sleepless nights together. I was sitting in work one Wednesday looking at my Shitbit readout – nine hours sleep – which sounds fine, until you realise that that is total amount of sleep for the week so far. “That’s a bit shit,” said the Shitbit.

It was more than a bit shit. It was terrible, and everywhere, all of the time: like Love Island. While I have lived with someone who suffers from depression and exhaustion, I still didn’t have any idea what it actually felt like.

I knew I was suffering. Crying at the finale of Friends is fine. Crying at the finale of Teletubbies…not so much. On the upside, at least Sophie could be gainfully employed by the CIA, because I was willing to confess to any crime to make this stop. It was colouring my whole world, my mood, my outlook…everything.

This went on for about a month-and-a-half with me saying things like, “If I just get some decent rest this weekend I’ll be fine,” to Martha. My ability to function on not-much sleep has been a much-needed superpower in our house, with Martha and I being like the Ying and Yang of slumber. To be honest, I have revelled in being Martha’s hero, and I couldn’t admit defeat:

“No, I’m crying because the things Johnny Sexton can do with a rugby ball are just too beautiful.”

As anyone who has read my book or this page will know, I could never be accused of stoicism, and yet, I still have that strain of stiff-upper-lip that does not allow a man to seek help when he needs it.

“I’m just having a bad day, I’ll be fine,” I said when I came home from work one day. “Yeah, so, I booked you an appointment with the doctor tomorrow morning, and you’re going,” said Martha. (Her assertiveness is a real turn-on – almost as sexy as her general breathing in and out.)

I un-stiffened my lip, and went.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the doctor.

“I’m here to talk about my feelings,” I said, and he gave me a high-five, because our doctor is sound.

After twenty minutes, I left with a prescription. For Sophie. Melatonin. We’d always been reticent to use drugs on her, but we had come to the point where we (I) couldn’t cope, so it was necessary. The name of the melatonin medicine didn’t make us feel better about it: KidNaps – I kid you not.

And here’s the thing: The drugs do work. Within a week Sophie was going to sleep earlier and staying asleep for the night, and I didn’t have a bastard-behind-the-eyes anymore. I’m back to my best Martha-bothering self.

Recently, there has been a spate of high-profile suicides. You could have an awesome life – like being a full-time draughtsperson and a part-time writer/musical comedian, or being married to a full-time draughtsperson and a part-time writer/musical comedian – and still be suffering. We know that only too well in this house.

While it is important to talk – and we (I) talk all the time – if you talk and find out that someone is suffering it is more important to make sure that they are getting professional help. If talking (and a constant stream of bad sex jokes) were enough, Martha would be fine, but I know that my shtick – while obviously hilarious – has only ever been a supporting act to the headline acts of anti-depressants and counselling in helping her to get through it.

Most of all – as Martha often says to me when I ask her if she’d be up for a ride – please, look after yourself. We all get beaten sometimes – as we saw in the first test against the Australians – even Johnny Sexton. And when that happens, you talk, you cry, and you get help, and then, hopefully, you kick the shit out of the Australians the next time around.

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