My dad is the first man I ever fell in love with and he has been with me through everything.
He was my first superhero, the greatest magician and best pancake maker I had ever met. As an adult he held my arm as he walked me down the aisle, and I remember the look on his face holding my new-born daughter for the first time.
Alongside my mum, he has been a pillar of strength who has supported me throughout my life.
As I grow older, I see more of myself in him. We share the same sense of humour, we’re both creative, and most importantly we both despise Brussels sprouts.
In 2013 we’d noticed that Dad wasn’t quite himself. He’d started to shuffle when he walked, which we put down to him needing to hitch his trousers up. Mum said that he’d been getting a bit forgetful, but we put that down to “senior moments”.
Then he mentioned seeing a dog in the room at night, or that the wardrobe was on fire. My parents had never owned a dog, and the wardrobe was most definitely not on fire.
When Dad was diagnosed with Dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease, the news hit our family hard.
I was pretty ill-educated about Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson’s as I suspect most people who haven’t had any personal experience are. I originally brushed it off, mostly likely being in some form of denial. “He will be fine. This won’t affect him. He’s my dad, and things like this don’t happen to my dad”.
Over the past four years we’ve watched how the dementia has really started to affect him. He is still Dad and in my mind he always will be. No illness is going to take that away from me. We take each day as it comes. We adapt and we cherish the moments, and the memories of good days.
As well as the impact of the diagnosis, we also saw the toll it took on my dad’s mental health and the rest of the family’s outlook.
Knowing what was to come had a pretty devastating result on my dad’s ability to remain positive; both for his own sense of identity and also the worry of what burdens he would be putting on my mum and the rest of the family.
Being diagnosed with a life-limiting condition is just one piece of the jigsaw. It’s only once you add in the depression, the anxiety and the guilt do you start to see the bigger picture and the true impact.
And it’s the whole family who are affected, not just Dad.
In many ways the impact on your mental health is greater than the illness itself, but admitting you have a problem is difficult. For too long poor mental health was something that you weren’t meant to share with anyone. Especially as a carer of someone with a condition, you’re expected to be “the strong one”.
I want people to be honest about what they have, and feel comfortable and confident in saying “I struggle with mental illness and I need help”, rather than hiding it away and allowing it to control them.
So I wanted to start something that captured people’s imagination and attention.
I had already done fundraising for Mind in the past, hosting “Crafternoon” events, but I wanted to do something bigger to create awareness for mental health. So I launched a social media campaign.
The “Mind’s Eye Challenge” was an idea that had sat in my own mind for a couple of years, but really wasn’t sure whether I could launch it as a social media charity campaign and make it work.
I spoke to a charity fundraiser at Mind for guidance and their advice was simply to go for it; they’d support me, but this was my idea.
What would be the worst that could happen? I decided that if people were willing to throw a bucket of iced water over their heads for charity, then in the age where the selfie is so popular that taking a picture of your eyes should be straightforward.
So a few weeks later I launched the Mind’s Eye Challenge campaign, and have started to make that difference to support and educate those on mental health.
Mind’s Eye Challenge is firstly for my dad, and that by telling his story that I’m leaving a legacy in his name. But it’s also to let others know that if you’re on the receiving end of bad news that it will impact on your state of mind, irrespective of whether you’re the one with diagnosis or someone who loves them.
There is no stigma, there’s no reason to hide it, and there is help out there when you need it.