This is the blog that if I gave it too much thought, I wouldn’t write. If I followed societies rule’s I wouldn’t be sharing this. I have spent hours pouring over how to phrase it and what words to use, because the subject is taboo. So forgive me if I just dive right in and get to the point.
A year ago, today I was in Kingston A and E department. I had the night previously taken an overdose of paracetamol with an intent to end my life. Well that’s the awkward hard part done. It’s out there now. I’m padding this bit out as I feel I want to give you time to process what I’ve said, I probably need time to process the words on paper myself. I’m procrastinating because I am aware of the severity of my words, and how triggering and upsetting it can be to hear and read. I’m also all too aware of how much stigma surrounds the topic of suicide, I will be honest I’m nervous and scared at the prospect of sharing this, I’m not sure I will have the resolve and confidence to do so? But I know that it’s only by sharing and talking that we break down boundaries and educate others on these socially taboo subjects that we hide out of shame.
It wasn’t my finest moment I know that. There is a part of me that is embarrassed to share just how bad things had got for me. That being said I also know how poorly I was for it to have got to that point of severe crisis. My thoughts had got so distorted that they took control, they took hold of me. Too many component parts of my life were wrong and I couldn’t control them or make them better. I was swamped, drowning in stuff that was suffocating me. I honestly felt that my only escape was to no longer be around. There are no words to describe the pain experienced at those points when my mood plummeted to low levels I could never hope to explain. It had got so bad that I couldn’t battle my poorly brain anymore. I was experiencing suicidal thoughts more and more, and I simply no longer had the energy required to get out of it, I was exhausted. I never thought I would have the resolve required to end my life, I never thought I could do it, but it turns out I did, things did get that bad. Sadly, I felt so very alone with this burden.
Just so you have some perspective PLASA was the 3-5th Sept last year 2021, and at that trade show I presented the findings of the 2021 well being survey. I stood in front of industry, smiled and confidently talked about my research as if nothing was wrong. A week later I was in hospital being treated for an overdose, and moved to a crisis house for further support and care. I share this with you now to show how difficult it is to see the signs that someone is feeling suicidal. Some of us are so skilled and practiced at hiding these thoughts and feelings that it can present itself in plan site and we might not know, and sadly we live in a society where talking about suicidal thoughts simply isn’t the done thing to do. I have no doubt that no one I met on that industry show floor had any clue I wasn’t feeling well.
On the 13th Sept 2021 I woke up having passed out, divine intervention perhaps, or just plain luck, who knows. I was dazed confused and so very sad that I was awake, I was mortified at the prospect of having to continue and navigate this life further. I was SO VERY UNWELL. I was broken. To me it hadn’t worked, I was still alive, I had no idea of the danger I was still in from the high levels of chemicals in my system, I’m not sure at the time I overly cared. I was numb, glazed over, at a complete loss. I don’t know what compelled me to call my community mental health team but eventually after a long time I did, my clouded muddled brain cleared enough to find a moment of logic “I’m not well, I need to call for help”. I was micro managed and handled by a trained professional from this point onwards. A kind lady called Abbey talked to me, called an ambulance, and didn’t leave the phone until I was with paramedics. That lovely lady saved my life, she was nothing short of amazing. I am very lucky to still be alive to talk to her and thank her for her crucial support. She now phones me every month to check on me as part of my ongoing care. I find it comforting to know it’s her that continues this support.The next few weeks for me were nothing short of the most mentally gruelling and challenging of my entire life, but also exposing and incredibly shameful at times. A and E, drips, fluids, psychiatric assessment. Moving to a crisis house which in hindsight was a blessing from being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Navigating daily visits from the home treatment team, communicating with social services, dealing with the bureaucracy of communicating this to my place of work, HR meetings, Occupational health reviews, line manager meetings. At times I’m not going to lie I felt like things had got 100 times worse. They had got worse, and I had no one to blame but myself. For a lady that didn’t want to go on living, none of these things were helping me feel any different. Even writing this all down, however concise I’m trying to be I wonder how the hell I got through it all. I know now that even though I was really ill, I have the strength and resolve to get through it. I’m very proud of myself.
In one way shape or form I got through it all. Slowly, methodically, day by day, I learned to live again, piecing myself back together. There were times I felt defeated, convinced I had really broken myself for good, that there was no way to come back from this. Each day of this new life, the one I hadn’t elected to be a part of was surreal, I felt like I had to reengage with life again, eating, cleaning, I spent so many hours just sitting staring not really knowing what to do. Yet each day I got up, did the things that were required of me, immersed myself in the task of looking after my daughter, went to every psychiatrist appoint, compliantly agreed to every drug they wanted to try despite some of them making me feel 10 times worse. I was still battling suicidal thoughts, but now I was telling the professionals, talking to some select friends, calling the crisis lines and most importantly never allowing myself to be alone when consumed with those thoughts.After 4 weeks of adjusting to life I elected to head back to work, probably too soon but with the consent of my doctors. I simply said if I have to live I better get on with it. It was a carefully planned phased return to work which I owe a lot of thanks to my employer for supporting. That first lesson back was so frightening even though it was a lesson I had taught for many years, I found battling day to day so much harder, but each one I got through was another day I had managed. Between medication, weekly sessions with my community mental health nurse, mentor support from a charity I developed a routine for day-to-day life and limped on with my life. I kept a mood journal for my psychiatrist, which was pretty easy to write as most days were crap, and just at the point when I’d given up hope came a day where I could write “today was ok”. It wasn’t brilliant, or great, just ok, I would take “ok” over suicidal and crap. Ok was a welcome relief from what I had experienced. Then I had another “ok” day, and a another, until eventually the “ok” days became a regular occurrence and I stopped logging them. From there I couldn’t tell you really when I started to have “good” days or “brilliant” days, because by then I was living again.
Suffice to say 1 year on from that fateful day I am still here, alive and I am very pleased to say well.They say a lot can happen in a year. Last year I was in hospital at possibly the lowest and most unwell I have ever been in my life. This year I am alive and well, having navigated mental health services enough to be semi discharged from weekly sessions with only monthly check-ups. I’m a qualified mental health instructor using my lived experience in a positive way to train and educate people. Despite my illness I went on to take the role of Co-Chair of the ABTT, working with David Evans, Robin & the ABTT team who supported me as I recovered, proving that you can have a mental health condition and still achieve such a role. With support and kindness, I eventually got back to work full speed and am ready to tackle another academic year supporting the students I teach.
If you had told me this time last year when I was laying in my hospital bed hooked up to drips that I would be where I am today, having achieved what I have done this year I would have thought you were mad. Last year I couldn’t see past getting through the next hour, never mind hear talk of my future plans, I was so very unwell.
Why have I decided to share this deeply personal thing that happened to me? For several reasons. I advocate on mental health awareness (or I try to when I’m well), I feel that sharing this experience might in some way educate and help us to learn more about suicide. I want to make this word less dirty and taboo, so that people who experience suicidal thoughts can do as they are told to do and talk and ask for help. I also really don’t want to hide in shame with this, I don’t want it to be my dirty little secret, that thing I don’t talk about because people will judge me for it or think less of me for it? Instead, I want it to be my finest hour, I got through it, I got better and I’m so proud of me for doing it. I was really unwell, acutely unwell, so much so that I nearly died. I needed treatment, care and support to recover and get back to full health, no different than a physical illness, there is NOTHING to be ashamed of.
What I will say though is that what I went through was entirely preventable if we all STOPPED buying into this strict societal normal that we can’t mention the “S” word. It’s the symptom of an illness, a really acute illness, and the reality is we can all be part of the cure by listening, believing and encouraging people to seek the support they need. Because you can recover from this. When I say recover I mean in the sense that I no longer at present have suicidal thoughts, I’m under no illusion that I have recovered from my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I also am under no illusion that I might not experience this again, although I am hopeful I have more in my arsenal of lived experience that I would be able to identify the symptoms and know the routes to support to prevent it getting as bad as it did. But for now I know I have recovered from this episode because one year on from the day I elected to Die I am still alive, more so than simply being alive I feel well and I am free from those debilitating thoughts. It wasn’t easy but I recovered, you can recover.Last year I was sat alone in the evening nursing debilitating thoughts that overcame me, and I just wanted a way out. This year I laid in bed with my beautiful 5 year old girl and stroked her head until she fell asleep on my chest, grateful that a wonderful women called Abbey got me to the support I needed to get better and create better memories a year later.
The things learnt from this experience?
- It’s not ok to have suicidal thoughts, if you are experiencing thoughts like this you are not well and you need support and help.
- Telling people, you feel suicidal IS NOT EASY! The subject is hugely stigmatised. The trouble with thoughts like this is that they don’t go away easily and it often takes time. I did tell someone I felt suicidal but the problem was that it went on so long that I felt stupid for continuing to mention it. On day 7 of feeling this way I felt like the girl that cried wolf, so I just stopped mentioning it, I figured people would get bored or annoyed with me. There are people and support that will listen to you each time you feel like this, even if you end up phoning every evening!
- If you feel suicidal the best thing you can do to stay safe is to make sure you are not alone. Go round a mates, phone a friend and have a really long chat with them. Phone one of the myriad of support lines we have as options, or even try the text message support service but DON’T BE ALONE WITH THOSE THOUGHTS, it’s dangerous and puts you at risk.
- It’s important that if someone does share that they feel suicidal that you believe them. It takes real courage to share something so personal that makes you feel vulnerable, especially on a topic that has so much stigma attached to it. Someone that I shared this with said “but do you really feel suicidal…..really?” This comment hit me so badly, and after which I never spoke of it again. 3 days later I was in hospital. If someone is brave enough to share this with you, it’s SO important you believe them. You don’t have to bear the burden of it all, you don’t have to understand or have the answers. Its ok to sign post that person on, but the kindest most supportive thing you can do is “believe” them.
- In the words of a wise psychology academic I know “there are good people out there that want to help you”. You might encounter idiots along the way that say hurtful unsupportive things but largely there are people out there that want to help you and get you better you just have to find them, and for that you have to reach out and talk.
- People who experience suicidal thoughts are simple some of the bravest and strongest people I know. Those thoughts are consuming, debilitating and SO VERY HARD to navigate and deal with. We are largely dealing with these thoughts at present ALONE, because society says we can’t be open about it, because we are told not to bring it up as people would judge or be embarrassed. This has to change if we want to see meaningful changes in the statistics around suicide.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and at times you don’t feel safe. PLEASE PLEASE seek support. Here is a link to some resources I have collated that I have tried and tested and have found useful.
To find immediate support options in your area visit this link:https://hubofhope.co.uk
To find your local regional crisis line visit this link phone them if you dont feel safe:https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-urgent-mental-health-helpline
If you don’t feel you can talk at least communicate via text with this service:You can text Shout on 85258
Try the Stay Alive app:
- The Stay Alive App. – FREE. The Stay Alive app is a pocket suicide prevention resource for the UK, packed full of useful information to help you stay safe. You can use it if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.
In addition to the resources, the app includes a safety plan, customisable reasons for living, and a life box where you can store photos that are important to you. https://prevent-suicide.org.uk/find-help-now/stay-alive-app/
You can access more training to learn more about the topic of suicide here:
- The Zero Suicide Alliance. – https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com
The ZSA are a charity that work with NHS trusts to raise awareness on suicide and break the stigma. They offer free online suicide awareness training and resources to support people on the topic of suicide.