On the 11th of August I was probably doubled over in hysterics with a massive stitch in my side at my sister’s birthday. I had a fantastic time filled with crazy golf, board games and delicious cake. I laughed so hard that I couldn’t breathe. It was one of those special times where I completely forget about my mental illness and could live as me for a while.
Thousands of miles away, on a completely different continent, a much loved man was having a very different experience. Depression had wrapped its ugly black fug around him, blocking out all hope, pushing him further and further into despair. As the pain got more and the desperation became unbearable, he searched for anyway to escape. By that point, death seemed like the only way to be free.
It came as such a shock to everyone to hear that a brilliant, sparkling-bright soul like Robin Williams had committed suicide. I have to admit that I am only just coming to accept it as a fact. He was just WONDEROUS. He had this fizzling electricity about him. Even though I never met him, I grew up with him as a major part of my life. My childhood was filled with laughter and my imagination sparked by his magic. I’m not ashamed to say that I sat down and had a good cry after his death thinking of a world without his beautiful soul.
As much as Robin Williams’ death has deeply saddened me, it has also moved me to think more about mental health issues and the power of depression. It doesn’t just grasp the ones who suffer from it, it seems to have this kind of hold on everyone. No one really dares to speak about it and I can’t think of any reason for this than fear. I’m not sure if it’s fear of the unknown, fear of association, I don’t know. I just know that those who suffer seem to hide their feelings away while those who don’t suffer can’t bring themselves to ask about it in case they disturb the beast.
I always think of my most used quote from Harry Potter to sum up how I feel about this;
‘Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself’
By being afraid to talk about mental health issues, we are making it a taboo subject and increasing its hold over us. We’re afraid to ask about it in case we stir up negative emotions. We’re afraid to reach out for help in case we are seen as ‘crazy’ and are rejected. It happens to me even now despite the fact that I like to think that I’m very open about my illness. When I visited home for my sister’s birthday, I forgot to take my anti-depressants home with me. I only realised after the four hour (six hours if you include the traffic!) drive and I didn’t think it would be a big deal. This meant that I went three days without my medication.
Turns out that kind of is a big deal.
When I came to go to work on Wednesday I was still suffering from withdrawal symptoms and I was a nervous sobbing wreck. I knew that I was in no fit state to go into work, but I was too frightened to ring up to let my bosses know. I didn’t know which of my supervisors would answer the phone and I didn’t know how they would react towards mental health issues. That’s not to say that my supervisors aren’t nice people, they’re all super friendly and helpful at work, but when it comes to a subject where there’s so much stigma and shaming surrounding it I have no idea what their personal attitude towards the situation would be. Maybe they would think I was weak and couldn’t handle work or maybe they would think I was lazy and just wanted a day off. In the end I chickened out and begged Burly to ring in for me. Highly unprofessional and highly cowardly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to admit to my supervisors that I was struggling with my depression on that particular day.
But why? Why did I feel like that? I was right, I really wasn’t in a fit state to go to work that day. It’s just the same as not coming in because you have a contagious head cold. Just because you have a cold on that particular day it doesn’t mean that you are weak and that you can’t do your job. Once you’ve had time to recover, you’ll be back to work as normal. And that was all that I needed. After one day of rest and looking after myself I was ready to return to work. It’s just such a pity that in this day and age, when we like to think that we as the human race are so progressed, that I felt shame, embarrassment and fear about admitting I needed help just for one day.
We need to talk guys. We need to be open and honest. The more we talk, the more power we can take back from depression and stop it from manipulating us with fear.
I’m going to take the first step. There’s no point in writing about needing to talk more if I hold back information. So please, be patient and kind with me.
I do not claim in any way to know what was going through Robin Williams’ head when he chose to end his life last week. To do so would be crude and disrespectful. What I do know is how I felt when I was there myself in January this year.
It was not long after Burns Night, a Scottish celebration of the poet Robert Burns where haggis and whisky are consumed in copious amounts. We had a party to celebrate and invited some of mine and Burly’s friends over. Burly had bought the biggest haggis I had ever seen in my life in anticipation. I cooked lots of different dishes involving haggis; haggis pizza, haggis pakora, haggis nachos, all sorts. It was a lovely evening.
A few days later we were slowly working our way through the left over haggis. I decided to make a haggis shepherds pie which Burly rated 7/10. I took pictures and started to write a blog post about it. It got late before I finished so we decided to head off to sleep. When I lay down in bed, without any warning, thoughts and images about my dad’s death flashed into my head. It was a relentless torrent of pain and grief pouring down on me. Nothing had happened to make me think of him, nothing had triggered it. All I had done was relax and try to go to sleep.
And that was it. I was done. I didn’t really cry, I didn’t scream. I didn’t feel particularly sad. I just knew that I had had enough and that it needed to end. My mind and body were spent, there was nothing more that I could draw upon to fight.
I told Burly I couldn’t sleep and that I was going into the living room. I told him I’d probably drink some of the left over wine to help me relax.
I sat down on the settee and put on Family Guy. After a short while, when I thought Burly might have fallen back asleep, I crept to the bathroom and raided the medicine cabinet for pills. I found Ibuprofen and paracetamol. As I’d discussed the fact that I was suicidal with my doctor, he had requested that Burly look after my anti-depressants so I didn’t know where they were.
I went back to the living room and sat down with a bottle of wine. I’m not very good at swallowing tablets so I decided to take them four at a time at intervals. While I was doing this, I tried to carry on writing my blog post. Very soon what I was writing turned into a suicide note. I think it’s safe to say that not very many people begin their suicide notes with a haggis shepherd’s pie recipe but I was always one to be different.
At one point Burly came in to check on me. I thought he might do this at some point so I had already hidden the tablet packets. He asked me what I was up to on my laptop and I just said ‘I’m writing’. He didn’t seem to realise that by this point I was on my second bottle of wine. I didn’t let on that anything was more unusual than normal so he left me to it and went back to bed.
I can’t remember right now how many pills I managed to take in the end but I think it was about 28. I’d made my way through all the white wine and moved on to red. I don’t really like red wine and its bitter richness was making me feel queasy. I think there were only four tablets left in the packets at that point but I left them because I didn’t want to throw up. In my drunken state it didn’t even occur to me that I could drink water or get a crabbies from the cupboard. I just finished my note and lay down on the settee hugging my cuddly toy bunny.
While I was lying there I didn’t feel upset or frightened. For once in a very long time I felt at peace. It would all be over soon and I wouldn’t need to keep fighting anymore. I started to think about how nice it would be to see my dad again.
When Burly got up for work he came into the living room to see how I was. He found me on the settee and thought I was asleep. He tried to speak to me and wake me up. I wasn’t really asleep, I remember him speaking to me clearly, but I didn’t seem to have the strength to say much back. At that point he saw the pill packets and realised what I had done.
I heard him ringing for an ambulance and begged him not to, begged him to just leave me. I started crying hysterically, pleading for him to just let me die. I was so close to being free. Of course he ignored me and soon the ambulance arrived.
I was taken to A and E where they did checks on me and hooked me up to a drip to flush the drugs through my system. I didn’t really feel ill at all, just very tired. A doctor came and spoke to me about how serious the situation was and how my liver was in very real danger of being damaged by the pills. They gave me an antidote for the paracetamol and warned me that I might have an allergic reaction. For a while nothing much happened and I was just left with Burly to relax.
Very slowly, very gradually, my head became more and more itchy. Soon my scalp and my groin both felt like they were on fire. I started crying because it hurt so much. Burly called the nurses over and they gave me an anti-histamine. They warned me that this too might have side-affects and I might begin to feel nauseous. They gave me a bowl just in case.
After the itching died down, I sank back into the bed and began to doze. Burly took this opportunity to go out of the room to ring my Mum and let her know. Not long after he left I started to feel extremely sick. I sat up, grabbed the bowl and proceeded to be violently ill. I couldn’t breathe because I couldn’t stop retching. I shouted out for help, I didn’t care that I was in a crowded ward. By the time the nurse came over to me, I’d stopped being sick. She gave me a new bowl and left saying she’d come back soon with and anti-emetic. A few minutes after she had left I began to be ill again. This time I just vomited mucous and blood. The retching was so violent that I wet myself. I sat there in the cold, wet bed sobbing. I was too ashamed to call over a nurse. I waited until Burly came back and could help me. We had to get a nurse to come over and change my bedding. We didn’t have a change of clothes with us. She warned me that there were no pyjamas, instead I was given this sort of wrap. There didn’t seem to be much sympathy for me and there seemed to be this idea that the vomiting was from the alcohol. I was finally given an anti-emetic and I began to relax again.
Burly told me that he hadn’t been able to get through to my mum the first time so he went back out to call again after I had settled. The woman in the bed opposite me looked over, obviously concerned for me after I’d been so sick.
She asked, ‘do they know what’s wrong with you?’
I replied, ‘Yes.’
She waited a moment before timidly enquiring, ‘what is wrong?’
I took a breath and said, ‘I tried to kill myself.’
Instead of recoiling away from me and avoiding eye contact like I expected, this complete stranger got up from her bed and came over to me despite being in obvious pain. She put her arms around me, hugged me and said ‘I know how it feels, I’ve been there too.’
I hugged her back, buried my head in her shoulder and cried.
When Burly came back, she left me in his care and returned to her bed. Not long after this I was moved to a new ward. At this point the drugs were really affecting me and I was drifting in and out of sleep. At one point a doctor turned up, I think he may have also had a junior doctor with him too. I opened my eyes and tried to sit up a bit to speak to him. Instead of speaking to me, the doctor directed everything at Burly, almost as if he was ignoring me. The last thing he said before he left was ‘Oh, this ward can get a bit busy and noisy at times so she might find it difficult to sleep. But that’s probably a good thing and maybe it’ll teach her not to try this sort of thing again.’
I felt so insulted, hated and alone after those words. It was as if I was a naughty child who needed to be taught a lesson. There was just no sympathy for me at all, as if I deserved to suffer for trying to commit suicide. And seriously, it was insomnia caused by nightmares that had got me in this situation in the first place! If a night of disturbed sleep was all I needed to put me off suicide I would have been cured years ago.
I dozed off for a bit after this and Burly took this chance to pop home to get more clothes for me. He was gone for a while and at one point I was woken up by the food being brought round. I received shepherd’s pie. Needless to say, I didn’t have much desire for shepherd’s pie at that exact moment in time.
As I looked around the room, it seemed like everyone had visitors with them. I became painfully aware of how long Burly had been away. My throat and stomach were both so sore and the drip in the back of my hand was uncomfortable. I hadn’t wanted any of this. I was supposed to be free by now; I wasn’t supposed to be surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place. I was frightened and frustrated. I hugged my bunny, who’d come with me in the ambulance, and cried.
A nurse noticed, drew the curtains around me, then left.
Burly obviously did come back in the end and I was moved to a different ward where I joined several elderly ladies. He stayed with me as long as possible but we both knew it would be best for him to go home and get a good night’s sleep. I, on the other hand, spent a sleepless night in that ward accompanied by a symphony of bodily functions as the ladies merrily snored, wheezed and farted in their sleep. My particular favourite was a lady down at the other end of the room. She was obviously a little confused about where she was kept calling out to the nurses. At one point she kept calling ‘Michael! Michael! Turn off the corridor light, our electricity bill will be huge!’ Finally a nurse pleadingly responded, ‘My name isn’t Michael! It’s Sophia!’
The next morning Burly returned and after a brief medical assessment, I was released to go back home.
For the next few days I remember just feeling blank. It was just all so bizarre. I wasn’t supposed to still be here, but somehow I was. I’d been so ready for it to end and for me not to have to care or fight any more. Now I was back home in the same living room that I had said my goodbyes to just days before.
So that’s the story of my attempted suicide. To be honest, now that I’ve seen it all written down it feels quite daunting. There are probably a lot of people wondering why I’m sharing such personal information about myself. It is scary, I can’t deny that, and I am worried that there will be a negative response. However, I genuinely believe that the more we try to talk about our experiences and our fears, the more that we normalise depression and reduce the stigma, the less likely it will be that people will react negatively to us and that in turn will make it so much easier for us to find help.
It hurts me so much to think of Robin Williams and how alone he must have felt. Again, I wouldn’t ever claim that I know exactly how he was feeling, however if it was anything like how I felt myself in January, when I felt as though my whole life had already been sucked out by depression, then I would never wish that upon anyone.
My tribute to Robin Williams is to be brave, take a deep breath and make the first move.
Here is my story. It might be long, hard and it might be tricky to take it all in but it’s all my own. It might leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths but my hope is that it will help us all come together.
As the man himself once said…