Tattoo artist Keely Rutherford recently lost her mum to depression and pyschosis, in this honest interview she talks about what happened to her mum and why she is holding a charity flash day in her memory…
Keely with her mum and dad
Have you always been aware of your mum’s struggle with depression and psychosis? To be honest no. She struggled and was sectioned for nine months about 13 years ago. Mum had never shown signs before, when she was home it was something we never really spoke about. I wish I’d taken the time to understand her and how she might have been feeling.
I don’t think we ever fully recover from mental health issues, but my mum just got on with things the best way she could. She was strong, courageous and had a very happy life with my dad. Looking back over the years, Dad and I have realised Mum had an addiction with shopping. When she was worried or anxious, she’d spend money to make herself feel better. Since she passed away, we’ve found thousands of pounds worth of clothes all with the labels still on. I think mental health covers such a wide spectrum of symptoms, that it must be so hard to realise when you are dealing with a mental illness.
Do you remember this while you were growing up? The first time I remember Mum getting poorly, I was 20. She’d just retired and was at home alone all day while dad and I went to work. When we came home, we slowly started to realise that mum hadn’t changed from her pyjamas all day. She was extremely anxious and panicky and we couldn’t work out why. This went on for longer than it should have, but Dad and I were totally unaware of mental health symptoms of this nature, so we didn’t know what to do.
We finally got Mum to a doctor who referred her to a psychiatrist who was very concerned for her. She got sectioned within the week as she was showing signs of psychosis and depression. She’d lost so much weight and was severely malnourished. It took her about nine months to get back to some kind of normality. If I’m honest, I don’t think Mum was ever herself after this. She was a big worrier, but she was still bloody wonderful, caring and funny! We had a great relationship. She confided in me back in November 2016, just before she was back in the psychiatric hospital. Her worry was totally fixable and I took control to help the situation. Sadly it didn’t change how Mum felt, the damage was already done.
Keely being tattooed by her mum
Do you struggle with mental health yourself? Who doesn’t? I don’t think as humans we were designed to put ourselves under the amount of stress that we do, with work and our lifestyles. We push ourselves so much to be these amazing humans that we all are, but I do think that can affect us mentally.
I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental health issues, but then again I’ve never been to see any one. I know I get anxious but never enough for it to affect my life too much. Losing Mum made me have emotions I’d never faced before. It’s only been a few months since Mum died and I’ve had a couple of days I just didn’t want to get out of bed – which is very unlike me and made me understand depression. I’m so lucky to have my boyfriend Andrew, he has been a rock, not only to me but to my dad too. I know the days could have been a lot darker without his presence.
What advice would you give to others who are worried about relatives? It’s so hard as everyone has a different story. Definitely talk to them, try and help them open up. The second time around my mum’s GP wasn’t very helpful. He wouldn’t look at her history or refer her to a psychiatrist as we suggested. So I called Mind and they said go to A&E and ask to see the duty psychiatrist, so we did on December 2nd 2016. They took us to a private room, asked Mum lots of questions – and Dad and I. They assessed her situation. They organised a team from Crisis to visit mum at home twice a day. By the 5th of December, Mum was back on a psychiatric ward. I never knew about going to A&E for this kind of help, so it’s something I want to share.
“My parents both tattooed me in August last year. Which I’m so grateful for.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to let your mum go? Oh man this is a hard one. On February 17th I was working the London Tattoo Collective. At 10.30am, my phone rings and it’s Mum’s ward. She was on her way to hospital as they couldn’t wake her up, she was unconscious from going into a diabetic hypo. She stayed in hospital for two weeks where they got her eating, they then sent her back to the psychiatric ward where within days she was rushed back into hospital as she was unconscious again.
Since about January, Mum had stopped walking and being able to feed herself through the meds not working and lack of support in the ward. So by this time she had been bed bound for a month. The hospital where mum now was ran test after test and found nothing, she was a little more conscious but she wasn’t talking or opening her eyes. We celebrated her birthday on March 10th, she was 73. She was now being fed through a tube and had been on a drip for several weeks and still semi-conscious. All her tests came back clear, so over the next week Dad and I met with numerous specialists, who all said they couldn’t find anything wrong other than Mum’s brain didn’t want to fight any more, it was shutting down.
So on March the 17th we had our final meeting, and this was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. To let Mum go peacefully. The doctors had no other options and poor Mum couldn’t fight for herself and I know she would have hated us all seeing her lay there day in day out. They said the chances of Mum ever walking again was near on impossible as her tendons were so dehydrated. So for my darling Mum’s dignity, the specialist, Dad and I made the decision to stop all the meds and let her go. Mum started palliative care (end of life treatment) on the 18th of March. So we sat with her every day and night for two weeks until she passed away on April 1st, this was torture watching her slowly die, but it also seemed so unfair to prolong her suffering. I held her hand until the bitter end
We will never know if Mum knew what was happening the last few months of her life. All I know is that I hope she knew that Dad and I were with her when her heart stopped beating.
Why is it so important to open up a dialogue about mental health issues? It’s the unspoken illness, yet it affects so many people’s lives. When I told people my mum was seriously ill people assumed she had a physical illness. I’ve had such an amazingly overwhelming response already from sharing my story and making a charity day [details at the end of this interview] to raise money and awareness. As you can image it was a very hard decision to go public, but as soon as I did it was like a weight had lifted. I hope by sharing others will be encouraged to confide in the people around them.
Some of Keely’s flash available at the charity day on August 12th
What do you hope to achieve from the flash day? Awareness for people like my mum who suffered and felt too scared to ask for help. 100% of what we make will be going to the mental health charity Mind – they helped us so much. We have already had so many donations, I’m so grateful.
You mention on your JustGiving page that your mum loved cats and passed this down to you (and that is why it is a cat flash day) did she pass anything else down to you? So much! I’m very like my mum, she also asked daft questions all the time! Which I’m very aware of doing! I’m amazing at shopping so I think that’s down to her! She was a great mum and devoted her life to me, she taught me so much. To be caring, kind and to love. I’ll always miss our chats about life and love.
10am, Saturday 12th August
364 Caledonia Road
London, N1 1DU
Pre-drawn flash available on the day
First come first served basis
Tattooers taking part:
Lord Montana Blue