Help the Aged

#1 of a series of guest posts by Malc Bickerstaffe.

As it’s Volunteer Week and I am one, I was planning a blog about how it feels to be one. However, I remembered I’ve done so before in these pages so decided instead to write about how it feels to be getting old.

The first thing to say is it doesn’t feel nice, so I’ve taken a couple of steps aiming to alleviate the pain. Having spent most of lockdown on my lardy backside I was so glad to learn that the gym was reopening, so I’ve been making thrice-weekly visits and am happy to say I’m beginning to see results. I look much better now, more toned, more attractive (I hope) even though my hair is still in lockdown – no pun intended – and a law unto itself. Picture a follicle fusion of Warhol and Dr Emmett Brown.

Secondly, as many readers will know, I live with depression, but given that I’ve been feeling much better, I’ve begun to taper the anti-depressants. This is a development not before time. Frankly I was sick of looking in the mirror and seeing someone else looking back at me, this pale, gaunt, tired and ageing beast with sadness in the whites of his eyes, chins like a punctured tyre and the overall look of a sunken shopping bag lying in the gutter.

If you’ll allow me to describe it by anagram, to live with depression is vile, to grow old with it is evil.

Yet tapering tablets is not to be taken lightly; it is certainly fraught with difficulties, not least trying to discuss the idea with your GP, for whom appointments seem to be filed under “Pre-Covid”.

But for me it was a vital manoeuvre given I’d begun to sound like a half-full tube of Smarties whenever I hit the treadmill: Venlafaxine X2 at 150mg, Mirtazapine X1 at 50mg, Quetiapine X2 at 50mg. The Venlafaxine I can just about cope with as they seem to calm me down, but the Quetiapine, prescribed to prevent anxiety and facilitate a good night’s sleep, gave me anxiety and a broken night full of monstrous nightmares. The Mirtazapine, intended I think to counteract the Quetiapine, did not, as far as I could see, counteract, and in fact did nothing but provided a different coloured Smartie. So that, I decided, was the evil to renounce first.

To paint a picture of the aforementioned Quetiapine-induced nightmares, they almost always involved being chased by someone or more often something – a giant spider perhaps, a robotic opponent on the football pitch, a man-eating plant or a pair of knitting needles that had come to life and wanted to stab my scrotum. The thing on my tail caused me to ululate like a baby, scream expletively at it to go away, or worst of all lash out, pushing and kicking and breaking my toe on the bedside cabinet. This, as you might expect, took its toll on my relationship as my girlfriend stopped wanting to sleep with me for fear of a black eye or having her ears ripped off.

Which brings me to sex. Or lack of. Because if you’re like me and growing old with depression you’ll probably have suffered at some point with your libido. In other words you don’t have one. But this is not just about growing old, it’s about growing old on tablets. Namely, Phlopidicazine, or as I call it, Floppy Dick. The alacrity and prolificacy with which Floppy Dick is prescribed is a pandemic all on its own, it only adds to the global threat of mental health disorders post-lockdown and should be addressed as such. It should be raised, as it were, in Parliament. It cannot and should not be dismissed as an unfortunate side-effect of drugtaking or the ups and downs of life, because it is far worse than “unfortunate” and there are absolutely no “ups”. So Floppy Dick, I decided, was the second evil to renounce.

Now, the other worrying fact about growing old with depression is that you become almost unemployable. It certainly worries me, because at the age of 59 pushing 60 I’m beginning to feel I’ve done the last day’s work on the payroll of my life. I feel that, like the sunken shopping bag I am spent, forgotten, not even recyclable. It’s another thing that wants looking into.

Viewing the dark side of this, as one embittered growing old with depression delights to do, it seems a lot of work has been done to address other issues that have plagued our society for years and years. Such as lack of diversity, racism, sexism, you name it ism. I think like this every time I watch a football match and hear the calls to halt discrimination and inequality, heed the war-cry demanding we report anyone falling foul. I see twenty-two men and a ref go down on one knee. Quite right too I think, but what about the aged, and those growing old with depression, don’t they deserve more help?

I think taking the knee is a positive stance, but it should not be only about black lives mattering. So how about taking the knee for the depressed and aged who matter too? I think it would be a good thing, a positive thing, a vital step forward to renounce the evil. I for one would certainly go down on one knee. If I believed I could get up again.

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