Diana’s story: Overcoming depression
“That was the year I wrote off my much loved, nippy, little red Peugeot. Drove into a car at traffic lights. Pregnant woman and two toddlers in the car I hit. Wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.
My GP seething with frustration, trying to get a psychiatrist to see me. Visits from the Crisis Team, many, many more tears, gradual improvement. When, I asked, should I go back to work? You will know when you are ready, they said. Taking a wholly ineffectual overdose the day I should have gone back, booking it as a day’s leave and returning the next day, unready, fragile, teetering on the brink.
A few months later, I collided with another vehicle at a junction. Wondered if I was fit to drive. Used to spontaneously spout tears at the last roundabout before work – and just mop them up in time to walk in dry-eyed. Then the tears would start again, off and on, any time, any place. Swimming front crawl with tears streaming down my face. Smoking cigarettes made soggy by the tears. Cigarettes I only started smoking after an encounter with my local psychiatric Outpatients service.
“I will prove to you that there is an afterlife.”
And he tried to force me to look in a mirror. Distraught, I refused repeatedly, by word and by act.
“I am never going back there again” I told my GP.
Fears evaporated, old fears, like dark alleyways at night and those grim housing estates with impossible to find addresses. Getting knifed in a rubbish strewn cul de sac would have seemed a welcome relief, an escape.
Excited for once – at the prospect of going to a conference: the almost perfect venue in which to die. Clean, quiet, found by strangers. Shame at my thoughts as I vaguely tried to pay attention to words about the conference.
Plans made. Boxes and boxes and boxes of painkillers in my bag. Farewell letters written, neatly stacked in their pre-addressed envelopes, along with what little cash I could muster. Internet searches, gruesome websites full of the testimony of deeply disturbed individuals, others with detailed instructions of how to tie knots and good combinations of substances to take.
Guilt. Endless, endless, crushing, suffocating guilt. They will think it is their fault, that I didn’t love them enough, didn’t love them at all. They will suffer in so many ways, the children will go off the rails and end up as prostitutes and junkies, my mother will end her days in misery and guilt. Endless, endless, crushing, suffocating guilt.
More powerful than the guilt, stronger than anything else, the need to permanently escape the futility, the pain, the deep, dark, black bleakness of an utterly unbearable life….And yet, how does that life look to others? Comfortable, settled, fulfilled. Family, job, house, car, holidays. Why suicide? How could she do it? How could she leave us like this?
I could see no further ahead than a few days, without being overcome by panic and terror, feeling myself being engulfed in a terrifying, swirling black hole. Thick layers of impenetrable, personal misery wrapped themselves around me, so that the prospect of living for, say, another week was like some sort of acute mental torture – it made me almost howl with pain.
Another, more educated overdose, came round in ITU, lovely nurse whispering kind words to me. Then the unkindness of another in HDU, who refused to get tissues for me, whilst the tears dribbled down my face. Another day, another overdose, a phone call from Personnel asking me not to return to work until I had been seen by Occupational Health.
The GP listened patiently and wrote to the consultant, requesting that he see me himself and promised me it would be different if I went back to Outpatients.
Leaving work early for the Outpatients appointment, totally astounded when my consultant told me he wanted to admit me at once. “What if I don’t want to be admitted”, I asked. “Well then, we’ll have to take the Mental Health Act route”, he told me. “How long”? I asked. “Not long”, he answered. Go home, get some things, organise your childcare and be back by 5.00, he ordered. Went home, inexplicably did some ironing, rang the childminder, my mum, my husband and packed a few things, enough for a week or so.
Shock at the admission. Shock that the admitting doctor said how thin I was, I had no idea I was thin, had practically given up eating, only opened my bowels once a week. Shock that my belongings were searched and items taken away to be locked up. Shock when I was chased by a Health Care Assistant younger than my daughter, when the front doors of the Unit were locked on me and I was escorted, physically, back to the Ward.
Shock on discovering that I was totally incarcerated, that being a Voluntary patient was meaningless, that I was imprisoned in this strange, hostile place.
Shock on discovering them watching the dining room with their checklists, peering through my window, turning my light on, ticking their sheets. Telling me the consultant would decide when I could go out, that he would tell me about ‘leave’ in Ward Round.
What no one told me:
What Ward Round was, when it was, that you could book a time, that there would be all sorts of people there who I had never seen before, that I was expected to answer deeply personal questions in front of them all. That decisions would be made then and after that it would be a week before anything could be changed, when the next Ward Round happened.
That I would be watched all the time for four days and then watched most of the time; that I would be incarcerated in the Unit, that being a Voluntary patient meant nothing, that people spoke a strange language I knew nothing of.
What ‘leave’ , ward based’, ‘72 hours’, ‘TTOs’, ‘safe’, x minutes ‘escorted’/’unescorted’ meant.
That “not long” would turn into nine months as an inpatient.
That I would be institutionalised within a week or so, would learn the language, the customs and the practice, would be a model patient, give or take a lapse or two.
That this would just be my first experience of incarceration for depression, that it would happen again, that I would learn much more about life and mental health services and depression, that I would lose my job and my self respect, that many, many more overdoses and overnight stays in A & E or the Obs ward would follow.
What I learned
So much about human suffering, about how much worse off so many other people were than me, that there were many, very, very sane people in the same boat as me – and some very unwell, very disturbed and disturbing people as well. What drugs and alcohol can do to people, how people change when they are ill.
That I would be grateful at times for the respite and the lack of responsibility provided by the Ward.
That some friends would evaporate, but others would stick by me and, most importantly, treat me as me.
That nurses on acute psychiatric wards seldom have time for patients, that many apparently have little interest in them, but that there are some who are deeply caring and kind, as well as some really lovely Health Care Assistants, cleaners, OT technicians and OTs.
That ECT was a horrible, horrible experience. How disappointed my consultant would be when it did nothing for me.
That OT would offer hours of peaceful, enjoyable, quiet, gentle relief from the boredom and tension of the Ward.
To like and respect my consultant. That he listened when I asked to avoid the awful Ward Round ordeal, that he let me go swimming after ECT, that he has maintained his impenetrable, professional optimism throughout our long relationship.
That I would grow very fond of my cpn and be very grateful for her support.
That I would recover after a long time, very gradually,that I would be able to watch my children grow up thanks to Mental Health Services and to my GPs, that I would owe them my life.”