It is less than two months until the Edinburgh Festival begins. A time when those previously mentally stable lose control as they chase elusive 5-star reviews. I am a comedian and for years I lived the experience of Edinburgh vicariously through colleagues who went. I celebrated their success and cried with them over their loss. Ok that’s a lie, In the main I read with bitterness their success and smugness their failures, but whilst doing so I made myself a promise, I would only ever go when I believed I had something to say worth hearing. Now, in 2015, that time has come.
I won’t spend an hour talking about my family, as wonderful and crazy as they are. Nor will I verbally bash several bells of the proverbial out of my ex, no matter how fabulous that would feel. No, in my hour I will be talking about how I got ill aged 33, and decided to euthanize myself in order to stop my own and my family’s suffering.
Why? Well when Breaking Bad finished the suffering became too much so….
Forgive my silly attempts at humour here. This is a very hard piece to write. I mean I am a MOTHER! And yet I almost rendered my two children aged 3 and 7, motherless by my own hand!
I had a baby in 2010; a gorgeous, perfect little boy. Each time I heard his little cry my heart felt genuine pain as it struggled to contain all the love it felt. I couldn’t stop smiling. But something was different. Instead of feeling better after the pregnancy, I didn’t. I felt a vague exhaustion.
As time went on it became ridiculous. I would fall asleep standing up and fall to the ground. Or watching TV holding a cup of tea one minute then awaken as the hot liquid hit my thighs the next.
I carried on until one morning I awoke screaming in the most violent pain I had ever felt. It covered my whole body and I looked on in horror as all the joints in my hand, feet and mouth dislocated. My jaw locked so I couldn’t even scream properly. The children were wide eyed with fear and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to sooth them. I’m meant to sooth them, it’s my job and instead I’m the one they are afraid of. I still can’t decide which hurt more, realising that or the physical pain.
I underwent hospital tests but no diagnosis could be made. Finally I asked to leave and armed with morphine and a stronger anti-depressant, came home.
Weeks later I saw another doctor, a lady who specialised in pain. It did not go well. She explained there was seemingly no reason for my pain and expressed concern over my morphine use. She said she would write to my GP and stop it. I asked what we would try instead and was stunned when she replied: ‘Nothing’.
I cried and begged her not to. I begged her to help enable me to look after my baby. She eyed me with suspicion and again mentioned my morphine use. She then uttered the words that haunt me: ‘You will just have to live with it’.
I sobbed and pleaded but it made no difference. I eventually left the room, struggling with the door as I did. A nurse followed and apologised and asked me to wait to see another doctor but there was no point. I had a new diagnosis now ‘Drug seeking behaviour’.
I was crying while waiting for the bus to take me home when I had my first thought of opting out. As a lorry passed I thought I should step in front of it. No one was coming to save me and the kids are terrified. My partner is looking after our baby and can’t work and we are sinking financially. As it sped past I told myself not to be stupid and rang my GP for a private referral. We were broke couldn’t pay but I was desperate.
The posh doctors diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and I was offered a steroid injection. I talked to my Mum taking advantage of her 26 years of A&E experience and we both agreed it didn’t feel right. I cancelled.
I saw 27 consultants and they all drew a blank.
After collapsing with anaemia Mum came to stay. She took one look at my swollen body full of fluid, my pale face and marched me to my doctors. As we sat waiting I leaned on her shoulder and simply said ‘Mum, I think I’m dying.’ I waited for her to call me stupid but instead she just squeezed my hand and I knew she worried for the same reason.
Mum told them about the different diagnoses; M.E, Post Natal Depression, Fibromyalgia, old fashioned depression, chronic pain syndrome, disc degeneration. Bloods were taken and I went home. Later the GP called asking me to go to hospital to have the bloods done again. Something had shown.
Dutifully I went. I felt pretty bad afterwards and crawled into bed exhausted. I fell asleep. The next thing I knew the Doctor was on the phone asking me to go to hospital ASAP and to pack a bag! I agreed but was too weak so I rolled over to sleep.
My mum and partner badgered and got me to hospital. I am glad they did as otherwise I’d have died. I was having an adrenal crisis and my body was shutting down. We each make a stress hormone and it allows our body to handle things without enduring too much. A normal morning hormone reading should show your levels as being 550-700, mine was 25.
At hospital I was given an emergency injection and began to come around. That’s when my consultant told me he believed the problem was my endocrine system – the glands that secrete hormones in your blood stream.
I remember being told there was no cure and knew my life would never be the same. I started taking drugs to live. To miss the drugs meant death and not in days or weeks but hours. It was a worry. I have two children so you can tell how good I was at remembering the pill.
Pain still gripped me. I was so weak all I could do was wake, watch TV, eat and sleep. My children hated visiting me and each hug set off waves of pain.
I just couldn’t cope. I’d lost it all. Fired from my job, unable to gig, couldn’t provide so we lost our home as debts mounted. I couldn’t even hold my babies. Kris, my gorgeous man, lost a partner and gained a patient.
It explains in part why I sent the email that changed my life. Dignitas wanted £10,000 to help me die. I didn’t have it. Plus who on earth would lend it you? It’s not as if they’ll get it back.
I found another euthanasia organisation and began talking to their UK representative. She was wonderful. So kind, so caring she made it easy to be honest particularly as I had hidden how badly I was coping from everyone.
We talked several times over as many weeks about what I’d do. Had I thought it through, tried it all? I had. I was so very tired. The kids were distant and Kris and I were fighting as we buckled under pressure. I felt my life was already over! Your heart doesn’t have to stop beating for you to die.
As all this happened I was given a new drug, a growth hormone that helped immensely. As months passed I saw it was working. I can’t tell you how elated I felt the day I was able to play a ball game with my children. How their faces lit up. I stopped fighting for death and began fighting for life.
Months later my body is slowly improving. I love my consultant as if he were family and will love him until the day I do die.
I realised I finally had something I wanted to say in Edinburgh, that life is wonderful and you should fight for it vehemently. However, should the day arrive when that fight is too much you should have a say in whether you wish to continue and that choice should be yours, and yours alone!
Later I was approached by Philip Nitschke, the founder of the euthanasia organisation I used and he asked if I wanted to do a show with him as he’d always wanted to try stand up. I saw potential in the doctor/patient story and we began writing. It didn’t work in the way I had hoped and so find myself solo again.
I’m scared though. Some will feel I am selfish, weak and shouldn’t talk about it at all. To those I say, I understand. The truth is you can never know how you will respond to severe suffering knowing they can’t fix you. No-one wants to suffer.
In that moment I believed it was the right thing to do for all my family, not just me. I also believe we need to talk about it. People are so scared of being judged. Fear of getting others into trouble - it is a crime to assist people - makes others act alone.
The importance of my show lies here. I may get lots of hate mail and upsetting emails but if one person speaks up to a loved one or anyone about how or why they too are considering this, then it will be worth it.
Some fear if we discuss it everyone will want to do it. But that’s silly. I believe far from an increase in deaths, lives will be saved if we open it up. If one person feels less alone because something they read or saw me say meant they could ask for help then it will be worth it all.
Only by opening up can others help you realise that even if all you can do is lay in bed and muster a smile in a good moment, there IS a point to you! Let someone remind you.
The world of euthanasia is a strange one. Not everyone has patient’s best interests at heart. Some care more about the cause than those it would help. This emotive, sensitive topic needs handling with care. It needs discussing responsibly and by those it may affect one day, people like you.
I really hope you never need to think about it too much but if you do I hope my show will help provide insight. As for me well, I'm no longer chasing death, I'm chasing dreams.
Finding myself without a venue and sponsor with less than 2 months to go has been hard. Alex Petty at laughing horse has kindly offered a venue and Kate Copstick has been wonderful in guiding me through it all. But it costs. Posters, fliers, venue they all come at a price. If you could help me achieve my dream I’d be so grateful. If you could donate anything to help me achieve my goal it would mean the world. There is a PayPal account set up firstname.lastname@example.org for donations or if you would be willing to sponsor the show for a place on all fliers, posters, future articles then please email the same address.
Sick Girl is previewing throughout London in July and Edinburgh 8th - 30th at The Counting House Attic, 12.05pm.Reuse content