I should know better than to think my past will ever let me escape it’s grip. I might have had a new view a couple of weeks ago, and have been celebrating (internally) at how far I have come, but as is often the case, the past roared to life and knocked me sideways within days of my last post.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, but we will get to that later), three weeks of incredibly long days at work, followed by a week of anniversaries surrounding the legal process and my father’s death, and providing support to other family members having their own struggles with the past, and a number of other ‘stresses’ I had no reserves left to keep my head above water, when I started to drown.
The short story is, I was hospitalised for two days after seeking help from my GP to keep me safe from myself, until the strongest urge to suicide I have yet experienced, had passed.
Those who know me, and those who have followed me from the beginning of this blog, know the desire to take my own life is not new, it has been an ongoing struggle since I was 12. I have had a long period without any suicidal ideation, however, so I think I have become complacent. I am not sure if this impacted the intensity this time, or the amount of planning I managed to do in the minutes it took for me to leave work and arrive at the doctor’s office, once I knew I wasn’t going to make it on my own, but I am grateful to the part of me that acted in opposition to the desire to die.
I learnt a lot from this experience, particularly in regards to stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with a dysfunctional mind, and more so against those who seek help during crisis.
I have been aware of the ‘badness’ of people who present in a hospital’s Emergency Department following a suicide attempt since I was about 15, when my mother (a nurse) came home from work ranting (that is how it seemed) about the stupidity, cowardliness, and waste of time of a patient who had tried to take their own life. As my mother was angrily expressing her feelings on the matter, I remember thinking to myself, “you have no idea what it is like”, and I often wondered afterwards what she would do if I told her that I fantasised about suicide all the time.
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say people who suicide are cowards, I would have the financial freedom to do and have anything I desired.
When my father took his own life, I heard all sorts of things said about him choosing death over life.
All the while, suicide, and how to achieve it, was front and centre in my mind, from the moment I woke up, to the moment I lost consciousness to sleep each night.
So, my point is, I knew before I went to the GP twelve days ago, that there was stigma, prejudice and discrimination against anyone so weak they can’t control their own, dysfunctional, mind. Even though I knew, I was not prepared for how difficult asking for help outside of family or friends would be. I was not prepared for the disgust and loathing aimed at me by, so-called, medical ‘professionals’. I was not prepared for the lack of awareness, in this era of organisations such as Beyond Blue, Sane.org, the Black Dog Institute, and Lifeline, who are constantly encouraging those of us considered mentally ill to seek help, by people who are meant to be the ones doing the helping. I was not prepared for the escalation and desperation that rose in me to escape and carry out my plans to end my life. I was not prepared to have to fight so hard to be heard. And I had no reserves to draw on.
I was not prepared.
I was, however, extremely lucky to have some guardian angels on my side.
Angel One was the GP. When I rang to make the appointment, I asked specifically not to see the doctor I normally did, because I knew he would be one of those looking down on me for my weakness. I was given an immediate appointment with a doctor I had not seen before. My initial intention when making the appointment, was to get a certificate for some time off work. By the time I had reached the doctor’s office, I had a fully-fledged plan of what, when, where, and how I was going to end my life. I was expecting to have to push to get the time off work – what I wasn’t expecting was a compassionate human being, who heard the things I was not saying, and who prodded just enough to get me to expose my plan, without having to fully explain the reason for it. By that time, I had broken down completely. The doctor phoned my mother (who was on the otherside of the country) to tell her he was sending me to hospital, and then called for an ambulance.
Angel Two was the surgery nurse who sat with me while I waited for the ambulance, and who allowed me to get my work bag out of my car and change out of my work uniform, before the ambulance arrived. I was crying the whole time, and she took it all in her stride and conversed with me as though I was a fully functioning person, even though I was mostly incoherent.
Angel Three was the female ambulance officer who gave me a running commentary throughout the trip to hospital, and who did her best to calm my rising panic at the thought of going to an Emergency Department as a ‘suicidal maniac’ – images of my mother’s anger at her patient played on loop in my mind, in full HD colour, and her voice rang in my ears. The ambulance officer also explained I was being placed under an emergency order for at least six hours. At the time I had no idea what she meant, but basically I had to have a guard if I needed to use the bathroom, go outside for a cigarette etc.
Angel Four was my brother. He had visited me the night before, and had arrived at his home, a couple of hours away, not long before I asked my mother to call him and ask him to come back. Prior to his arrival, the resident doctor at the hospital had tried to question me on why I was there. At the time, there was a male patient in the room with me, and I did not want to have to try and explain anything if there was no privacy – my mind was racing and confused, I was having trouble breathing, let alone thinking, and I became mute as her anger increased. Eventually she huffed that she couldn’t help me if I didn’t tell her what was wrong, and then stormed off.
So, there I was in a room with a man I did not know, struggling to retain any grip on reality, and I was on the verge of a panic attack. The male patient was taken away a few minutes later, and as soon as he left my body went into anxiety overdrive. All I could think to do was phone my brother to find out how much longer it would be before he arrived. He said an hour. I told myself I could hold on for one more hour, I had to. I huddled in the corner, behind the supply cabinet, crying hysterically, feeling my brain fracture.
Some time later I heard a nurse walk to the door of the room, and I guessed she was either talking to my brother or my mother, as she told them I was fine.
WTF? I wasn’t in any way even close to fine. She didnt even enter the room, and would not have seen me from where she was standing.
I discovered later that it was my brother the nurse had been talking to, as he had tried to get someone to check on me.
Between then and when my brother arrived, I met Angel Five. She had given me a warmed blanket and a pillow when I first arrived, and she had come back to check on me. I was still crying, shaking, and curled up in a ball. I asked if she could get my guard so I could go outside for a cigarette. She left for a moment and then came and said she would take me. Outside, I kept saying I was sorry, over and over. The nurse asked me general questions about where I lived, where I worked, and got me to focus on any thing except the current situation. She said the doctor would be back to see me. I begged her to not make me talk to that doctor. She asked why, and I explained. She asked if I wanted a hug. I declined.
A few minutes after we went back inside, she came and asked to speak to me in the hallway (the male patient was back in the room), and told me the doctor wouldn’t be back, and that the mental health team was sending someone over to see me. I thanked her, then asked if I could have that hug after all. She left, but returned with a cup of tea for me.
A quick look at my watch told me I only had to hold on for 20 more minutes and then my brother would be there to speak up for me, and I could let go and rest.
It was a tough 20 minutes, with another nurse coming in to look down on me. I was ready to give up. I tried to assess how difficult it would be to use the curtain to hang myself. The thought sent me spiralling downwards.
Finally, my brother arrived. He had brought with him Angel Six, my niece. If anyone had any idea of what I was going through it was those two.
Eventually, Angels Seven amd Eight arrived in the form of a psychiatrist and a mental health case worker. They took me to a private room to assess me. At the end of it, I was told I would be admitted overnight. I was so grateful I would not have to face the night alone.
Angel Nine arrived the next day – my daughter. She is a trooper that kid. She has seen the best and worst of me and still loves me.
While the night nurse was compassionate, the day nurse was definitely in the “you should just get over it” camp, and her loathing was palpable. Thank goodness for the angels.
Angel Ten was my mother. She arrived at my bedside later that day, and said she would be here for as long as I needed. Mum has come a long way since that ‘rant’ that still rings in my ears. In the last eight years, I have seen her struggle to understand my dysfunctional mind, but she tries her best, and her willingness to grow is greatly appreciated.
I was released after a second night in hospital. I had a night at home with my daughter and niece, and then my mother whisked me away to the tropics for a week of recuperation.
And what of the view that all of this may be fortunate, or a blessing in disguise, as I mentioned early in this post? Well, I have a new diagnosis, I am on new meds that seem to actually be working, I know my family loves me, and for the next 3 to 6 months at least, I have a team of professionals who are helping me help myself.
I have a much better understanding of why people in crisis don’t ask for help. Of all the hard things I have had to do along my healing journey, my experience of asking for help outside of family and friends, and of the Emergency Department and some hospital staff, is ranked right up there with things like going to the police about what my father did, and making a pretext phone call as part of the legal process.
However, overall, I encourage anyone who is in crisis to seek help. If you are in Australia, use the links to any of the organisations listed above, or if you are standing right at the edge, call 000.