Today is World Suicide prevention day and in its honour, I am going to share a rather personal story. It is so important that we become comfortable talking about this very difficult and painful subject because while it is shrouded in secrecy and shame, more people will loose their lives to suicide.
A couple of years ago, I suffered a depressive episode that went on for months. It had been getting steadily worse, but I woke up on a dreary Sunday morning and thought I’m going to die today. The suicidal thoughts that were lurking in my mind had crystallised into a plan of action. Everywhere I looked I saw an opportunity to take my own life and I knew I was in danger. I told my husband that I did not feel safe and he suggested that I text my psychiatrist. I was a little reticent to disturb him at the weekend, but he persuaded me that my doctor would rather have a text from me on a Sunday than hear about my death on a Monday. I messaged my doctor and he called me back straight away. I asked if I should go to hospital as the thought had crossed my mind during the previous weeks. He said that if I felt unsafe, I should be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
“Ok, just over night then?” I asked, my voice monotone.
“No, if you go you stay for a week.”
I was wrung out from being sick for months and I agreed without question.
This changed everything, suddenly I would have to organise childcare and manage my work commitments. I hastily grabbed a few things and threw them into a bag, my mum came over to look after my son. I picked him up and wrapped his little body in a hug and my heart cracked when I handed him to mum.
My husband came with me to the hospital, we waited in the reception for a nurse to show me to my room. When the she arrived we all boarded a rickety metal lift and rattled our way up to the top floor. She led us to a small but comfortable room. A doctor joined us and they asked me all manner of questions about my state of mind. They then went through my bag, looking for sharp objects or anything else I with which I could harm myself. I was wearing a pair of doc marten boots, which the nurse eyed pointedly.
“I’ll need to take those I’m afraid.” She said, pointing to my laces. I dutifully took them off and pulled out the shoe laces.
After rummaging around in my bag, she found the charging cables for my phone, kindle and computer, which had been stuffed in with my underwear. They were returned wrapped into little bunches and secured with cable ties, leaving the connectors poking out with just enough slack to charge the device. After they left I had a look a proper look around the room and I noticed that the build-in wardrobe has no door and no rails, rendering most of the space pointless. I wonder why they didn’t add shelves? All the insipid framed images of flowers had plastic instead of glass and were welded to the walls. There was no tap in either the sink or the shower, just a hole in the wall where the water spurted out. There was no hook on the door where one might hang a dressing gown or a towel. Instead, screwed into the wood was a plastic wedge that looked like a big nose. I tried hanging one of the towels on the thing and it slid to the floor. The door nose and the upright coffin wardrobe were exercises in futility, design features created by Godot himself. Although some of the anti-suicide precautions seemed absurd, I was reminded how serious my situation was.
Eventually, it was time for my husband to head home and take over childcare. I was desperate for another hug, one more minute holding his hand but I knew he had to go. He kissed me and promised he’d be back tomorrow. I lay on my bed and stared up at the beige ceiling. There was a knock at the door, one of the nurses popped her head into my room.
They would check on me every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day.
I heard raucous laughter from outside and I went to the sash window and tried to fling it open, it only lifted a couple of inches. I smelled a faint whiff of cigarette smoke and heard more cackling. Someone was having a roaring time down there. During my stay, I was to realise that the jovial voices belonged to a group of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts and I spent a lot of time in the smoking area with them because they were the most fun patients in the hospital. Because I’d lost my shoelace privileges, my doc martens flapped around my ankles. I asked my husband to bring a pair of shoes without laces, but the most sensible ones he could find were ankle boots with a 4 inch heel. The sound of me clacking up and down the corridors, on my way to group therapy, echoed around the hospital. Confidentiality is essential in group work and I will not share about anything that happened in those sessions. At first I didn’t feel that I was getting much out of them, but as I became more open to their potential use, I started to find them meaningful.
Although I didn’t exactly enjoy my stay in hospital, I met some lovely, warm people who were were very supportive. There was a dark camaraderie amongst us, bound by the understanding that we were all here as a last resort and our mental illnesses had got out of control. People would ask about each other’s conditions and answer with casual candour. No one was ashamed or embarrassed, we all just got on with the business of trying to get better and so we could go home.
When I think back to this now, I feel terribly guilty for putting my family through this. Although I was in so much pain and I just wanted relief, I knew what my loss would do to my loved ones. Although my depression was doing its upmost to convince me that they would be better off without me, there was a quiet but persistent voice, imploring me to stay. I was lucky that the voice was loud enough for me to hear it and to seek help. Even so, I didn’t really understand why it had got so bad. Surely I was not the sort of person who would end up in a pysch unit? I had so many advantages and privileges. Even a stay in a private hospital was yet another thing for which to be grateful. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that there is no reasonable answer; mental illness often does not make much sense which is why the loss of someone to suicide is so shocking. It’s precisely this stigma that stops people seeking help. I can’t bear to think about what I would have missed if I hadn’t asked for help. I look at my son, who becomes more delightful by day, and imagine him going through life without a mum. It makes me blood run cold.
The depressive episode took a long time to pass, it was like having an enormous crow perched on my shoulder, it’s claws digging into my skin. When it lifted and the horrible bird flew away, I could breath again. I noticed so many little things that escaped my attention when the shadow of the crow’s wings obscured life’s small pleasures. The smell of the roses in the park, the sound of my little boy’s laugh, an act of kindness from a stranger. And then there are those people that I would do anything for, the one’s who make lit all worth while. Feeling connected to people I love is what makes life worth living, what makes me realise that I have to carry on, because my illness will rise and fall, but my love for them is constant.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please tell someone. It may upset them, but it is important that someone you trust knows you are suicidal. Those thoughts can rumble along for years until they suddenly becomes life threatening, so it’s integral that someone knows what is going on. If you feel able, please speak to your GP who will hopefully be able to offer support. If someone confides in you that they feel suicidal, take them seriously and let them know that you will be there for them, day or night.
Suicide is the ultimate irreversible decision and whatever you are going through right now is temporary. Life will inevitably change; it is one of the few things that can be counted on. If you leave now, you’ll be denying yourself the chance to get better, the chance to breath again and feel love again. Your illness is lying to you. Stay, life is worth it.
If you need help you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.