In a dark place.

It’s not all glitz and glamour this heart attack lark. It’s not all tributes to Ray Wilkins, silver pill boxes and Berghaus’ (If that’s the plural?)

Sometimes it can be dark. Really dark. You know the type of dark when you wake up in the middle of the night and try and find your way to the loo in an unfamiliar room without waking your partner up. That dark.

But the thing about this darkness is you don’t know when you are going to want to go to the loo. It catches you complexly unawares.

At the moment for me the biggest challenge is a mental one. It’s way harder than the toughest Times’ Sudoku. It’s trying to come to terms with what has happened to you, what could have happened and how you prevent it ever happening again. Its about understanding what it means for the future. It’s realising that you are mortal. Very mortal. And it’s nowhere near as easy as trying to get 1-9 in a 15×15 box without any duplication.

Since the attack, I’ve fallen into the new necessary daily routines quite easily, the blood pressure tests, the pills, the exercise and the diet. None of those have been as hard as I would have anticipated had someone talked to me about them before the attack. In fact, I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about nutrition and becoming more active than I was in the past. I’m also now the proud owner of a pile of books and pamphlets about coronary care, sleep and diet. They were notably absent from my library prior to the attack.

Of course there are an incredible amount of changes that follow an attack. Changes to lifestyle, changes to your body and changes to the way that your body copes and responds. I’ve talked about some of the side effects of the drugs, but there are others. Many others and I’ll write about some of those another time. But one of the biggest challenges, for me anyway, is a mental one. And there isn’t very much written about that at all.

I’ve talked about not knowing when you will want to go to loo in the dark and that is what has really surprised me. The darkness catches you unawares as it does in all the best horror films and it does so often when you are least expecting it and sometimes when you feel most ready for it. But you aren’t. You rarely are. And it comes and gets you and it envelops you and absorbs you. For those of you that remember, it’s a bit like standing at a bus stop in a Tango advert and a big guy dressed in orange comes and slaps you round the sides of the face and then runs off as quickly as he had arrived. And you are left wondering where he came from. The darkness is a lot like being ‘Tango’d.’

Most of my days are good, great actually. I feel as if I am making some really positive steps on the way to recovery and rehabilitation. Sure I feel tired a lot, often really tired, but each day I set my self some targets, some goals to achieve and most of the time I achieve them. Sometimes those targets are a little bit over ambitious and I don’t quite get there, but this feels like a bit of a long game as our friends in the States would say and it’s all about making positive steps forward each day. Often quite literally.

And then you get ‘Tango’d’, when you are at a bus stop or walking along a path by the Thames or sitting in an office talking to a colleague about returning to work. You get slapped around the face and someone turns the light off on your way to the loo. And the darkness comes.

I wish I could say that there was a simple answer to being able to turn the lights back on, but as with so many things linked to mental health the answers are far from simple. There is no sure fire way to avoid being ‘Tango’d’ and I suppose part of this journey to recovery is about being able to see the orange guy coming and knowing how to walk to the loo in the darkness.

I’ve always considered myself to be mentally resilient and that has been challenged a lot in my life, particularly in my working life. Work is a huge passion of mine, alongside Jackie, Freya, Ed and my family, it is what inspires me. It is what drives me.

When I was in hospital I wanted to return to work as quickly as possible. I needed to. When I was signed off for a month when I left hospital I was incredulous. I’m sure I asked the doctor if that note was the start of their stand up comedy career. There was no way that I wasn’t going to be in work the following week. No way at all. But I wasn’t and I haven’t been and it’s likely that I won’t be for a while.

After that month I desperately wanted to return, I needed to. Despite the fact that work almost exclusively contributed to my stress levels that were off the scale, I love it and feel so emotionally involved with it. And yet when I met with work to talk about returning, Heather, who is our wonderful HR Director, had a Tango suit in her bag. She didn’t know that she had and nor did I, but she did and boy did I get ‘Tango’d’, someone turned the lights off on the way to the loo and left some some slippers and a pile of dirty laundry to navigate just for good measure.

So for me this part of rehabilitation has been about understanding that it is more than just pills and exercise and nutrition. It’s also about mental well-being, you know that thing that men don’t really talk about. It’s about understanding that you take time to fix, often longer than you think you should. And that’s ok. It’s really ok. And the mental part of being fixed is as important, sometimes more so, than all the stuff that the pills and potions sort. It’s about understanding that just because your blood pressure is in the right range and your cholesterol is under a certain number it doesn’t mean you are ‘better’, it doesn’t mean that you are fixed.

It is said that not all challenges are visible. And this challenge certainly isn’t. It also doesn’t manifest itself in the same way for everyone, but it will be there and it will be dark. For some that darkness will last longer than others, but for all it is about learning to identify when that orange guy is going to strike and how to find your way through that darkness.

So it’s not all glitz and glamour this heart attack lark and I’d be really grateful if the last one up could leave the light on and not drop their slippers and dirty washing on the floor on the way to the loo.

Published by

Graham Barnetson

Im a 49 year old man who had a heart attack and wasn't quite ready for it. ‘9 days in Oldham’ is my way of helping me to come to terms with what happened and also to share my journey with others so that hopefully just one person doesn’t have to go through what I and my family have gone through and continue to. I am married to Jackie and we have two children, Freya, who is a first year Physiotherapy undergraduate and Edward, who is preparing to take his GCSEs. We live in Datchet, near Windsor in the U.K.

7 thoughts on “In a dark place.”

    1. Very understanding. My 52 year old husband was tangoed recently. And yes it does feel like everyday is like going to the loo in the dark. And mentally Iam stumbling over the dirty washing left by my husband being tangoed. With no diet sheet or box of pills for me to take, I’m in another room but it is still dark.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it Cherry and for commenting. I’m glad that the ‘Tango’d’ description resonates with someone else. But saddened that you also have to live in the darkness when it comes. Inhabiting someone else’s darkness is tough, I know Jackie took some time to get used to it, but we talk and we try and change the circumstances and sometimes, most of the time that works. And when it doesn’t knowing that she is there even in another room is hugely comforting. My very best to you both.


  1. Hi Graham beautifully written and very poignant. This resonates with me and my heart attack. I thought yup lost 32kgs. Eating raw oats. Exercising daily. Stopped any bad habits not even the odd glass of wine! Then the darkness descends. I refer to it as going down some very dark rabbit holes. It’s frustrating and scary and very emotional but thankfully they are getting less but as you say can still catch me unawares! Yes my partner has also been traumatised by the whole thing as well. Initially he looked like a rabbit in the headlights but that is settling now. I am immensely grateful for his unending support and love and being an incredible ‘rock’. Thank you Graham for putting this so eloquently. Take care. Zena


  2. Hi Graham

    I love your blog and hope your journey to fitness and wellness is a speedy one.

    I have experienced the darkness personally and in a family member. It is almost harder to watch someone you love go through it as you feel helpless and want to drag them
    back into the room where the light is but I have learned it will happen when they are ready.

    Take care, take your time, smell the roses and remember this too will pass.

    Sending you love
    Karen xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it and for commenting. I find it amazing how much this article in particular has resonated with people and therefore just how prevalent it is. That’s exactly the reason we need to talk about it more and hopefully this helps, if only just a little. Take care yourself. I’m off to smell the roses 🙂 x


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