The loneliness of a parent in pain — a mental health awareness week special

Dad, alone in the house, clutching onto his son’s comforter

“I want to stay at home with you, daddy; I don’t want you to be sad.”

Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is loneliness. So I wanted to share my experience this morning. Just one morning out of thousands of others, in a parent with permanent pain’s life.

I’ve been in a lot of pain lately, and this morning was some of the worst — a mix of sciatica in my back and legs from swelling, white-hot chronic pain in my ribs, and not being able to find a second’s comfort regardless if I’m standing, sitting or laying down.

So when the alarm went off after I was already awake for several hours and my wife got ready for a long 12-hour shift, my stomach knotted when my son woke at 6am. An hour and a half before I could take him to the nursery. Two hours before I would have the luxury of taking pain relief safely.

My wife helped me dress him, and we got settled in bed for a ‘daddy cuddle’ while watching cartoons.

It was time to go after what felt like an eternity, but Dylan was having none of it. He had already picked up on my discomfort long ago, previously switching on fairy lights in the bedroom and saying, “This will make you feel better, daddy”, and passing me my painkillers with the heartbreaking line of “here’s your medicine, daddy, I will fix you”.

Completely unlike him, he refused to leave the house. Instead, he told me he wanted me to come with him. He didn’t want to leave me alone. He wanted to stay with me.

The words that finally broke me were my own when out of desperation, I spewed, “Daddy can’t look after you safely right now. The ladies at nursery can give you a better day than I can.”.
It crushed me as I said it.

After many tears, we finally left the house one hour late, and as usual, he ran into nursery full of excitement and joy, but not before first asking me if I wanted to join him as we walked across the car park.

After a short drive, I find myself writing this now in an empty house, full of pain.
I miss my son.
I miss being fun.
I miss my plans for the day.
And I will beat myself up for feeling like a failure until the moment I see his little face.

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Joel Nelson

Joel is an Award-Winning Arthritis & Psoriasis Patient Advocate, Freelance Writer and Poet. Writing candidly about life to raise awareness.