By Jacklin Kwan
MEDICALLY retired at 37, chronic pain and depression ruled Richard Iles’ life – until a help group and radio show gave him a lifeline.
Ten years ago, Richard was overcome by consuming pain in his spine and lower back, which forced him to take a year of unpaid leave from work.
The pain would come in waves and completely drain Richard of energy. He could sleep for more than 18 hours a day but still feel too exhausted to get out of bed.
Richard, then aged 31, did not know it but he was suffering from fibromyalgia. He had also been struggling with depression for years.
At 21, Richard moved out of his parent’s home, began working and looking after his wife and young children. But the stress of rent and long work hours began to mount and Richard started drinking heavily.
“I did what most blokes do – I didn’t talk about anything, even to the point where I shut it out,” explained former Diggle resident Richard, whose parents Janet and Geoff remain in the village.
The drinking damaged his relationship with his wife and culminated in a Monday morning when Richard woke up too drunk to go to work.
Years later after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it was hard not to self-medicate with alcohol, especially when doctors stopped prescribing painkillers Richard relied on.
Along with debilitating pain, Richard said the inability to work eroded his identity and he struggled to come to terms with not being able to support his family.
There were weeks when Richard could not even manage to get dressed and he struggled to hold a conversation with his wife. ‘Fibro fog’, a dysfunction connected with fibromyalgia, made him confused, unable to concentrate or recall even short-term memories.
The mental block also meant he could no longer pursue drama with the Uppermill Stage Society which had been a great source of pleasure for him.
After being nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Greater Manchester Drama Federation just a few years prior, Richard could no longer remember the lyrics to songs, much less his lines.
He was forced to medically retire aged 37 and surrender fulfilling hobbies, which left him devastated. “I lost a lot. I felt like I’d lost a part of me,” he admitted.
But determined to turn things around, Richard began to work proactively on his mental health, requesting additional counselling from the NHS and attending meetings at local men’s support group Andy’s Man Club.
There, he met Paul Holmes, who runs a small independent radio station, Indie Rocks UK, at his house.
The radio station was the light at the end of the tunnel Richard needed. He was finally able to express his humour, showmanship, and creativity that had been suppressed by his diagnosis, re-discovering a sense of purpose as well as bring joy to others.
His ‘Decades of Rock History’ show has been running now for more than six months, covering tracks from the fifties up to 2005 so far.
And his progress is obvious, from early episodes with an undeniable air of stilted awkwardness through to his most recent shows with clear new-found confidence and self-assuredness.
The daily objective of having a radio show to write, record and produce, coupled with a greater willingness to talk openly about his mental health, has been a boost for Richard’s well-being.
And he recognised there is a growing and positive trend that encourages men to discuss their feelings – a norm that just was not present when he was younger.
“It sounds daft, but I’m 41 now and I still wouldn’t talk about this with certain people,” he said.
He added: “Troubles will pass and memories of bad times will fade. Always look on the bright side.”
Readers can tune into Richard’s show every Tuesday at 6pm online: http://indierocks.co.uk/