The Man Who Jumped From A Ferry - Part 2

If you are experiencing low mood or you are emotionally fragile, please be aware this article details my recent attempt to complete my suicide and my psychiatric hospitalisation. I encourage you to seek help the best way you know.

After the Succoth ward door had clunked closed behind me, I followed the nurse to one of the side rooms off the long ward corridor. The on-call doctor joined us and a little while later Karen arrived having stopped off at the local supermarket to buy me some essential toiletries and a few bags of sweets. There followed a lengthy process where I was asked a number questions about my life, my experience of depression, and to describe the events which led to my suicide attempt. I was exhausted and it was a laborious process, especially recounting my ‘story’ again. I understood the need for a thorough assessment of my needs.

The Long Corridor

Eventually it was time for me to be admitted and it was with some relief I knew this was going to happen. I had been fearful I would be turned away. I’m not sure why. Karen left to head back to Oban and stay with her sister. It was in this moment I had a flash of extreme guilt for what I had done. I was concerned about her driving through the dark back from where we had travelled. I could see the fatigue and worry in her face. I found myself saying over again, “I’m sorry.” It was an emotional goodbye and then I was alone with the nurse and being shown to my bed in a four person ward.

As is the process when I am admitted, my belongings were inspected, and everything accounted for on a form which I signed at the end. Anything deemed potentially dangerous was taken away and locked in a small storeroom in a basket which became mine for the duration. The items which were removed were only my belt and a charging cable for my phone. If I had my shoes on, the laces would have gone too. To be honest, I wasn’t affronted by this seemingly intrusive management of my personal belongings. I have enough experience of psychiatric ward life to understand the drill, and anyway, I somehow felt secure knowing that means of possible self-harm have been removed from me.

Most of the nursing staff on night duty when I arrived knew me and likewise, I them. Quite bizarrely I found myself smiling ruefully when we greeted each other as if we were old friends. This was my third admission here after all, so we knew each other pretty well by now.

I was shown into the ward where I would be staying for the coming days and weeks. I find this moment to be a slightly worrying one. It’s the moment I meet the three other occupants I will be sharing this space with. Because it was after ten at night by the time I was properly admitted, the lights were low and one of the three was already asleep on the bed next to mine. The other two seemed to me to be no more than teenagers and each had an I-Pad from which they were competing to see who had the loudest volume for the films they were watching. I realised with a sunken heart; this was going to be a ward where the understanding of the needs of others would be challenged. When the nurse showing me to my bed offered me a sleeping tablet, I accepted this with alacrity.

I knew my way around the facilities so there was no need for me to be given a quick guided tour. Instead I was left to my devices. I sat on my bed and emitted a huge sigh. This was it. The moment I was on my own again and I was desperately low. My body huddled over and my head hung low. Tears welled and ran hotly, noiselessly down my cheeks. It was a confusing range of thoughts and emotions which crowded me. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to my suicide attempt. I was more concerned with where I was, that moment in my life. I’ve never been incarcerated in prison, but I imagined that moment of realisation all hopes for the coming days and weeks, connection with family, and essentially the freedom to walk and explore anywhere had to be forgotten. Any hope of regaining all of these and more were given up. Or so it seemed.

I was a voluntary patient which meant, technically I suppose, I could discharge myself any time I wanted. I was not under section and bound by law to remain on the ward. However, it was made clear to me this was the best place for me in my condition and for the first few days I was not allowed off the ward under any circumstance. It was likely too; it would be some time before I would be trusted to leave the ward on my own. Until this moment, I would have to be accompanied by a member of staff if I wanted a walk or a visit to the shops.

Comfortable Bed

I placed my scant belongings in the drawers beside my bed, stripped down to my underpants and climbed under the sheet and blanket. This moment, like so many since arriving on the ward, was a familiar experience leading me to think I had never really been away. It was another instant for me to grasp the fact I was here again. A wave of personal failure flooded through me as I nestled myself into the crisp clean sheets and lay my head on the comfortable pillow. Despite the noise of explosions and monsters being defeated from the two films, the cacophony of thoughts running through my head and my overwhelming despondency, I was soon asleep. I was exhausted.

I awoke in the early hours of the morning with a start and my mind was instantly alert. My levels of anxiety were heightened, and I found myself ruminating on what had occurred the day before and again, the hopelessness of my life. I lay in my bed, eyes wide open working through my options. I really did not want to be in hospital again. I felt such a failure. As daylight broke, I made up my mind once more to attempt to take my life. The ward I was in was almost opposite the nurse’s station but even still, I surreptitiously slunk into the adjacent shower and toilet room with a blanket I had pulled off my bed. The ward and bathroom facilities were constructed in a way it’s impossible for anyone to hang themselves. For example, the curtain rails around each bed are held in place with magnets and would detach if any weight was placed on them.

I had worked a way in which I could make another attempt to end my life by hanging myself. I tied a knot in one end of the blanket and placed this on the outside top of the bathroom door and then closed the door. With the other end I attempted to create a slip knot noose, but the blanket was too bulky. I then tied it around my neck and attempted to hang from it so I would choke. As I was fumbling with this futile process, the door burst open and I tumbled to the floor. Hands grabbed me and I was hustled without any grace back to my bed. A nurses voice sternly said to me, “No, we will not let you do this!”

A short while later I was taken into a side room and asked what I was trying to achieve. In no uncertain terms I was told not to attempt anything like this again because if I was going to do this on the ward, there was no point in me being here. This seemed to be a harsh implied threat, but in that instance, I realised with chagrin, I wouldn’t help myself by behaving in this fashion. The rest of the conversation was far more sympathetic. I agreed to never attempt self-harm again while I was on the ward. For the rest of the day, I maintained a self-imposed low profile, more out of embarrassment than anything else.

The following day I began the familiar process of settling into the comfortable routine of ward life. 8am was breakfast, 8.30am were the morning medications, 9.30 was the diary meeting when activities for the day were outlined and who the nurses for the various geographical areas of Argyll and Bute were, and finally any requests from the patients. These were invariably a lift down to the Co-Op in the pool car. And inevitably, the response to this was – only if possible, because of staff constraints. Straight after this meeting was a chance to take part in a relaxation session or Qi Gong. (I rarely attended these). 10am the tea and coffee trolley was wheeled into the communal area. 12midday was lunch. 2pm out came the tea and coffee trolley again. 5pm was dinner. 8pm the tea and coffee trolley made another appearance. Then it was the long haul for me to 10pm and night-time medication. During the day there were usually group sessions and Occupational Therapy creativity sessions.

Somehow each day passed smoothly and quickly. Except the long drag from 8pm to 10pm. By the evening I was desperate for my bed and as soon as I had received my meds at 10, I was not long climbing into the crisp sheets. As each day passed, so did the weeks. These then blended into months without any difficulty.

Every Tuesday I would have my meeting with the consultant Psychiatrist.  I generally looked forward to these appointments because the Psychiatrist was a star! I thought so anyway. Despite the small room accommodating him, a nurse and a junior doctor, his attention was focussed on me. He was insightful to the point of brilliance. I thought so anyway. A few of his observations cut right through negative beliefs I held about myself. What was most important to me in these sessions was the way he worked with me. It was always clear he was the psychiatric expert, but I soon came to realise he saw me as my own expert. I was the person who understood myself the most and therefore I was always included in my treatment options. He would never decide a path of action without checking it through with me first. Sometimes of course I relied on his experience and wisdom to make the choice for me, but even then, he managed to do this in a way where I left the room at the end thinking the decisions were mutually agreed on. I trusted him completely.

Although the treatment emphasis was centred on medication as the primary intervention for my depression, a lot of weight was given to alternative courses of action. I was encouraged to go for a forty minute walk with a nurse at least once a day. I was also directed towards the group sessions which explored coping with heightened emotions, behavioural activation techniques and hearing voices. Then there was Occupational Therapy (OT) every day. It was because of these daily activities and the hourly routines the days slipped by.

To begin with, I found existing in the four bed ward I had been placed in pretty challenging. The two youngsters had no sense of consideration regarding noise, especially late into the night. I found myself retreating into my shell, hunkering down and attempting not allowing these stressors to get through to me. As an old hand at in-patient psychiatric living, I was mindful of the fact that each one of us was in hospital for our own reasons. To become irritated and judgemental would not help me at all. It was better, and easier, to accept everyone at face value and look upon them as a person and as a fellow patient like me. If there were folks I found difficult to be in the presence of, I had the simple option of finding another place on the ward to hang out. Generally, I kept myself to myself. I felt the need to be quiet and to occupy myself beside my bed with reading, colouring in a mindfulness colouring book, completing puzzles or surfing the world with my I-Pad. (The ward had Wi-Fi for the patients).

About eight days later I was moved into another four bed ward where the mood was completely the opposite. Each of us content to maintain a quietened atmosphere, to the point of not allowing the ward door to slam shut as it normally did. Also, the four of us related well with each other and chatted amiably about our lives out of hospital. We never talked of our individual reasons for our admission.

It took me nearly two months to begin to noticeably see (feel) an improvement in my mood. It took even longer for my levels of anxiety to become manageable. In the early stages of my admission, I expressed my continued desire to end my life, passionately angry about being cheated at being rescued. There were many times I found myself reduced to heartfelt sobs of hot tears; my body wracked by the strength of my emotion. The nurses I spoke to each day in the privacy of one of the side rooms patiently and compassionately listened to my exhortations. Their interjections were respectful and always helped me notice any glimmers of hope amongst the travails I was pouring out. Their insights were often pertinently enough to bring me up short with new awareness. These one to one chats were invaluable to me. I rarely sought the nurses out to speak, it was they who asked me if I wanted a chat. Sometimes a nurse would sit on my bed alongside me talking about my interests, such as sea kayaking, mountaineering, Scottish history and the Isle of Mull. These chats subtly helped me realise my passions in my life and in fact, I realised some remarkable achievements during recent years. It takes great effort on my part to embody this awareness.

Slowly, surely, step by step, my illness was diminishing. It took some time for me to accept my depression as an illness which ravaged my ability to view the world in technicolour instead of bleak monochrome. I allowed myself to be ‘ill’ and understood I had a place in hospital for as long as it would take for me to be cured. Up until this point I carried the guilt I was taking a bed when there were more deserving patients who could use it.

I was eventually given my own room with en-suite facilities. By this time, I was functioning well. I devoured easy to read whodunnit books, sometimes one a day! My parents kindly sent me two books a week and they did not last long. I also enjoyed my colouring book of wonderful scenes of West Coast Scotland landmarks and scenery. One of the joys of having my own space was if I woke early, the ability to read without fear of waking others. It took me until almost my discharge before I began to sleep soundly through the night. The downside of course was solitude. I missed the blether and craic of the four bed ward. However, the benefits of enjoying my space outweighed what I had given up.

My life on the ward was seamless. The weeks blurred into each other where bed change Saturdays seemed to come around all to rapidly. From the beginning of my stay I developed a rigorous rhythm to my days. I would be out of bed by seven in the morning, showered and bed made by eight. I refused to have my bed made by the nursing staff, including bed change days. I always attended the morning meeting even though I had nothing to contribute. I liked to be in the front of the queue for meds. I would make my way to the room where they were administered a good five minutes before time. I was always in bed by ten. If I had taken a ‘sleeper’ for the night, I would curl up and go straight to sleep. If I had declined one, I would read in my bed until my eyes were drooping. This always felt deliciously indulgent to me.

Mealtimes were a different matter. I preferred to wait until most folks had been served before making my way to the serving hatch. We each had chosen our meals from a good menu of options a couple of days before, so there was no danger of no food. I invariably chose a vegetarian option because I found these tastier. I never ate potatoes and loved the broccoli and the sprouts when these were available. I rarely took a pudding but if it was jam sponge or sticky toffee, then I couldn’t resist. Sometimes I would have seconds! All my meals were eaten hastily. I rarely lingered at the table.

I was a loner on the ward. I found gatherings in the communal areas too much for me. I never watched television or streamed films. My place was beside my bed unless I was attending one of the group sessions or OT. For a short while there was a card school in the evenings which I sat and watched being played. The banter was lively, and I found it funny the betting currency were the sachets of mealtime condiments.

Halfway through my stay, I started Cognitive Behavioural Technique (CBT) sessions with one of the nurses who was a skilled CBT therapist. In the past I had ashamedly discounted the therapy because of my training as a Transactional Analyst with psychotherapy speciality. CBT was looked upon as being a rather shallow approach to working with emotional distress. After the first session with the therapist, I realised with astonishment, I was going to benefit hugely from this work. I threw myself into every session and the ‘homework’ which was set afterwards. Sometimes it was tough going and it unlocked some painful long held beliefs about myself which took me time to assimilate. One of these surrounded the issue of assertiveness. I found this incredibly difficult and for a week, I was destabilised by this new awareness. I struggled with the notion of embodying assertiveness for myself. However, I worked this through, and today, now I’m home again, it’s this one attribute which I’m aware has helped me the most. Week by week because of my CBT, I sensed myself positively changing.

Polymer Clay Necklace

There was a moment during my time when my medication was altered. One antidepressant was changed to another. A day into taking this new drug I noticed alarming side effects. My balance and co-ordination were knocked for six and I would stumble and wobble my way around – as if I were drunk. The other alarming effect was experiencing priapism (you’ll need to look this up if you don’t know since I’m not going to describe it). This was extremely painful, uncomfortable and embarrassing. I did joke with one of the male nurses that I should be proud of this condition now I was in my mid-fifties. This drug was hastily stopped, and I returned to the original antidepressant. Unfortunately, this process set back my recovery time because I had to be weened off one before beginning the other, have a few days on nothing, and then begin the new one incrementally.  

I’ve mentioned Occupational Therapy a fair bit. This was my saviour during my time on the ward. I enjoy being creative and I threw myself into several satisfying projects. I made jewellery out of air dried clay. I also made a chess set out of the clay for the ward since the usual one had been lost. I discovered the joy of polymer clay, and after watching various You Tube instructional videos, I was creating some lovely jewellery. These sessions were relaxed and convivial where the OT staff encouraged conversation which avoided our illnesses and treatment. There was often much laughter. Creativity helped me find value in myself.

I enjoyed one to one walks along the delightful woodland trails behind the hospital with various nurses. One person seemed to enjoy my company because he always sought me out to go for a walk. We shared a love for wild Scotland. When Karen visited, I was allowed out with her and we usually walked the woodland trails too. When my confidence grew, we went further afield for a walk and stopped at a café for a bite to eat. Eventually I was allowed time off the ward unaccompanied. To begin with, it was for only half an hour and no further than the woodland. As my trustworthiness was accepted the time limit was extended as was the range I could walk. It took me quite a while before I went to the local supermarket on my own. Being allowed out on my own was daunting to begin with. I had to suppress urges to disappear, although I knew this wouldn’t occur because of the promise I had made at the beginning of my stay.

Ziggy Delighted to See Me

Karen dedicatedly visited me every weekend. This meant her catching the last ferry on a Friday, reaching the hospital in time to see me on the ward. Sleeping in the car and latterly a tent, spending Saturday with me and some of Sunday. Ziggy, our lovely dog, was always delighted to see me. Karen always brought me goodies in the form of packets of wine gums and packets of dried mango. Always a treat for me. Sadly, many of her visits were tough for both of us. I was often uncommunicative and tetchy. There were often long periods of difficult silence. However, it was always wonderful to be in her presence and I missed her during the week. Our daily texting and sometime phone calls did not help me miss her any less. My parents visited a couple of times, driving up from Herefordshire with their caravan and staying locally. My daughter, Beth flew up from London early on and my son Chris, made a monumental effort by travelling by coach from Exeter, spending only a few hours with me, and then retuning home the same way. I was also blessed to receive innumerable cards from friends, many I have yet to meet. I am humbled by the love and compassion I was gifted from my wide circle of friends I knew first-hand, and others from my Twitter existence. I felt a large amount of guilt for not replying to them with thanks.

Depression is exhausting for me. Even though I wasn’t extensively active on the ward, I found myself consumed with fatigue a lot of the time. Essentially, I was fighting within myself. My thoughts and beliefs of self-hatred overwhelmed rationality but I fought back, attempting to shift these negative judgements away from me. This fight to overcome my bouts of introspection and rumination was a constant for much of my time on the ward. As time passed, these became easier but nonetheless I was often consumed by periods of ‘black thoughts’. Much of my thinking centred on guilt. The beliefs about my being a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a colleague, even online associates through Twitter. I could only see what I perceived to be my negative manner in how I related with people. Extreme guilt for past wrongs and slights. Shame for mistakes and misdemeanours. I felt a huge amount of shame and guilt for embarrassing my RNLI Tobermory colleagues through my suicide attempt. No matter how much the nurses attempted to guide my damaging beliefs away from my thinking, I would invariably respond with the classic “yes but” rationalisation. When I look back now, I think it must have been hard work for the nurses to chat to me. (There’s an unfounded negative belief right there.) They were always patient and compassionate with me.

My depression this time was deep. Deeper than I had experienced before. Now I knew I had it within me to carry through my desire to take my life, I couldn’t think of much else. In the early stages of my admission, my thoughts always ended with the inevitable belief, I must die, I want to die. If I didn’t, I’ll forever be wracked by this illness and I could no longer live like this. I found myself angry with the misconception I was keeping myself alive purely for the benefit of others. Could they not understand the pain I was experiencing? Could they not allow me to end this all? After all, once I was gone, they would no longer have to put up with my depressive moods.

This belief I must die was roundly challenged by the consultant who asked me one day, “If you didn’t have your depression, would you still want to die?” I remember sitting there my mouth agape attempting to come up with one of my usual negative ripostes. It dawned on me; I didn’t want to die. In fact, I wanted to live a life of potential and hope. I think it was in that moment a shift occurred within me and I understood my responsibility in working towards my recovery. I couldn’t expect the hospital staff to cure me, this was a process I needed to accept control of.

The CBT certainly helped me engage with my recovery process. So did past awareness from my sea kayaking adventures where I had encountered many profoundly metaphoric experiences. Probably the most powerful of these being the awareness – ‘this will pass’. The difficulty, the discomfort, the anguish, the pain, the depression will all eventually disappear, and I will be strong again.

My eventual recovery on the ward as it has always been in the past, was a swift process, happening within two weeks. The CBT sessions were ending, my mood had considerably lifted, and my anxiety levels had stabilised. I was allowed home for a two night stay. This proved to me I was ready to leave hospital. In fact, I suddenly realised I did not want to be there anymore. Within a few days of returning to the ward from this home leave, I was discharged and away the very next day.

I had been in hospital for three months. It did not seem this long, though I did realise with some sadness, I had missed most of the summer. It was a joy to return home to Tobermory and now as I type this, I recognise how far I have travelled since that desperate act at the beginning of May, when I was the ‘Man Who Jumped From A Ferry’.

The Man Who Jumped From A Ferry - Part 1

If you are experiencing low mood or you are emotionally fragile, please be aware this article details my recent attempt to complete my suicide. I encourage you to seek help the best way you know.

This account is not intended to be sensational or glorify my actions. I hope by writing this it offers insight into the dreadfulness of depression.

I sat in the passenger seat of our car in the loading queue for the Craignure to Oban ferry, morosely gazing at the MV ‘Isle of Mull’ as she hove into view and began her elaborate manoeuvring alongside the Craignure dock. A stevedore expertly performed his task throwing heaving lines with consummate ease to the ferry crew and the thick plaited mooring ropes were secured and the ship gracefully pulled into her mooring for unloading. My wife, Karen, had wandered over to the ticket office to purchase our tickets. I was alone in the car feeling dreadful. We were on our way to the Central Argyll Community Hospital for my psychiatric assessment, hopefully leading to admission on the psychiatric ward.

I looked up at the looming hulk of the ferry, casting my gaze along the external passenger walkway leading to the stern viewing deck. I knew then what I had to do.


Turning the clock back a few days, I recall the circumstances leading to this desperately low point in my life. Each of these instances melded into the other in a timescale which rushed past me at a seemingly uncontrollable pace. In describing them, it’s not my intention to apportion blame or responsibility. This is mine to carry, but this is an explanation of how I interpreted what I experienced. It’s important for me to do this in detail because not to do so, would diminish how my wish and my decision to end my life evolved.

A week or so earlier, to my joy I had been offered a job with the Tobermory Distillery as a part time tour guide. This was my first paid employment in eighteen months, and it was a role I was delighted to attain, whisky being one of my personal pleasures. The arrangements surrounding my start date were loose and confused which ought to have alerted me to what happened next. A week later I was sitting in the queue to board a ferry back to the Isle of Mull when I received a phone call from someone in the Tobermory Distillery’s parent company. In no uncertain terms I was told the job wasn’t mine to have been given and there was no role for me. It was a call out of the blue and because no reason was given to why the job wasn’t mine, my internal response was one of catastrophic thinking. I was angry too and turned to Twitter to express my ire, including naming Tobermory Distillery directly. I made an unsubstantiated assumption the reason for the job being removed was because I’m open about my mental health travails and this worked against me. There followed an outpouring of support from many of my Twitter followers along with a few responses cautioning restraint on my part before I knew the facts.

I then received an email from my paddling partner for a forthcoming kayak expedition raising funds for the R.N.L.I. asking me to reconsider my Tweet since he feared this would reflect badly on him and his professional brand. Regrettably, and I sincerely do regret this, I telephoned him and lost control of my temper. My issue centred on my freedom and identity being governed by another. On deeper reflection, this loss of identity to the will of another is an aspect of my life I have long struggled with. As a result of this tempestuous phone call, I received an email from him letting me know he no longer wanted to paddle with me, and would I see to it that money raised from a few of his Project Patrons was repaid.

I was devastated. Although I hadn’t known him long, I trusted him enough to be totally candid about the darkest depths of my struggle with depression and I understood from him, he would stand with me if I faced these demons during our expedition. My interpretation of this sad situation was again governed by my uncontrollable catastrophic thinking. This was the primary trigger which propelled me towards the decision to take my life. My rationale being, if being candidly open about my depression does not serve me, there is no point in me living. Essentially, I believed myself to be totally useless, a destroyer of friendships and an overall burden to those around me. In the absence of any further contact from my friend, I lost perspective and told Karen of my intention to kill myself. We live on a yacht and my intention was to slide into the sea in the dark of the night and drift away.

As per my ‘safe plan’ when I reach this critical stage of a depressive episode, we visited the local GP together. Thankfully he took control of the situation when he clearly understood Karen’s fear and her stated inability to give the twenty four hour care I required. He made an emergency appointment with the Community Psychiatric Nurse later that morning. I know Mairi very well, often seeing her once a week for support, sometimes twice a week when my mood is very low. When we met with Mairi, Karen again explained her fears. Equally I was unwilling to commit to keeping myself safe. My mind was made up and my intention was clear. Mairi contacted the Community Mental Health team and an assessment was arranged later that day at Succoth Ward (psychiatric ward) at the Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead. Living on the Isle of Mull, this meant taking a ferry from Craignure to Oban on the mainland. It’s a popular and busy route and without a booking it’s not always possible to get aboard with a car. After hastily throwing together some clothes for a potential hospital admission, we were on our way to Craignure hoping we would be fitted on to the next sailing.

Despite the hope I would be admitted into hospital and the profound relief of safety I would experience, I remained deeply miserable, considering myself a complete failure for reaching this position yet again. This was going to be my third psychiatric admission to this hospital. In the last twenty years I have accumulated well over one of those years as a psychiatric inpatient in various hospitals. I had no hope whatsoever my life would brighten, and I would be forever cursed with my depression. Since the New Year, I knew I was maintaining only a couple of steps ahead of a deep depressive episode. The kayaking expedition was a serious attempt to pull myself further away from my looming depression. Losing this was a major blow.

The MV ‘Isle of Mull’

This is where I found myself sitting in the car waiting to board the ferry and from Oban, an onward hour long journey to the hospital. As I scanned the passenger walkway and the observation deck on the ferry, I made my decision and formulated a plan. I would leap from somewhere on the deck hoping I wouldn’t be seen, and I would drift through the sea into hypothermic oblivion. My mind made up; I remember a sense of complete calmness suffusing my being. It was a release of my pent up pain. I kept my decision to myself and when Karen returned to the car with the tickets it was with a sense of disembodiment, I maintained a conversation with her.

We boarded and followed our routine of finding a seat in the ferry atrium, a place on the ship where dogs are allowed. We rarely find a seat elsewhere, preferring to sit quietly with mugs of coffee watching the excited tourists and the more sanguine islanders wandering from the restaurant to other parts of the ship. On this occasion though, we didn’t buy coffee or any snacks as we normally did. Once the ship was under way, Karen was oblivious to my neck craning manoeuvres to ascertain where were during the crossing. My plan was to jump into the churned tidal waters off the southern tip of the Isle of Lismore. Twenty minutes into the journey I worked out we were close to this point, so I simply said to Karen I was off to the loo, scratched the top of her head and wandered off. I didn’t look back.

The Sea Off The South of Lismore On A Calm Day

I hastily found my way onto the starboard walkway (right hand side of the ship) where there were too many people gazing down the Firth of Lorne towards a cluster of far off isles. I climbed the stairs to the stern observation deck where again there was a cluster of passengers on the starboard side but only two people in the far corner of the port side (left hand side). Descending the stairs on the other side of the ship to the portside walkway I was relieved to see nobody there. I wandered along to a point where I found I could stand on small flat section of deck after climbing the guard rail and leap with ease into the sea. To make sure I was truly alone I dashed back up the stairs to the stern deck to check if anyone was making their way towards my walkway. I noticed the couple over by the far rail and realised there was a good chance they might see me. I also saw the MV ‘Clansman’, another Caledonian MacBrayne ferry following not far astern. There was nothing I could do about this and I made my way back to my chosen spot. I took off my fleece jacket, so I was clothed in my trainers, trousers and thin t-shirt. I placed my mobile phone on the jacket. Without a second thought I climbed the rail and stood on the edge of the ship. Beneath me the wake of the ship creamed alluringly. Without hesitation I leapt.  

I felt no fear and instinctively pinched my nose with my right hand and held my right arm into my body with my left hand – just as I used to instruct students to do in my Outward Bound days when leaping into deep river pools from the rocks. I forcefully hit the sea feet first and felt pain shoot up from my backside. In a strange moment of ruefulness, I considered the bruise I would eventually have. All this as I disappeared under the water, allowing myself sink as deeply as I could to avoid being seen from the departing ship. The water did not feel cold. I surfaced in the rough and tumble of the wake just as the ship’s stern was slipping away from me. I looked up the stern deck and hoped I hadn’t been spotted by the couple by the rail. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to me my jump had gone unnoticed. The next thing which entered my mind was the approaching MV Clansman only half a mile away. I began to wonder if I would be run down.

However, superseding these observations was an incredible sense of peace and tranquillity. I felt no regret, neither any fear too. I am home on the sea and have never viewed it as an entity I have needed to battle with and overcome. I am often awed by the surging power of the ocean, but rarely frightened by it. In this instance now, I had a deep sensation of being at home, where I would peacefully pass away. My body, naturally buoyant, kept me on the surface, causing me to be mindful of how visible I might be. I forced my lower half to sink and with this, I kept my head from my chin up above the surface. The sea was cold but not debilitatingly so. I looked back to the ‘Isle of Mull’ not fully comprehending what I had done. There was no regret, no change of mind, no sense of fear of what was to happen to me.

The ‘Clansman’ loomed above me as she passed by and I kept myself low in the sea to minimise the chance of being noticed. By now I perceived my movements slowing and my thinking was becoming muddled. The Clansman swept by, her distinctive rumbling engines pushing her forward, the sea piling up around her bow. The wash when it arrived tumbled me a little and I felt the waves pouring over my head. Still there was no sign of me having been seen and once both ships were sailing into the distance, I allowed myself to relax. The wheeling seagulls mewed above me and peace enveloped me. I was aware that I was now being pummelled by the tide race which sweeps around the tip of Lismore and Lady’s Rock. Waves cracked over me and I gave myself to the sea. All was peaceful and the anguish I’d been experiencing over the previous few days was washed away. I was serenely ready for my death.

My reverie was shaken when suddenly three loud horn blasts emitted from the ‘Isle of Mull’. I knew then, my disappearance had been noted and a rescue mission would ensue. I attempted to hasten my end by submerging myself in the hope I would be pulled far below the surface by unseen currents. However, my strength and ability had become weakened and I kept bobbing to the surface. Looking back towards the two ships, I saw they had slowed almost to a standstill and were gradually turning in my direction. The sea was sufficiently rough to make spotting my head a difficulty. The tide now had me in its grip, and I had the sensation of being pulled along through the breaking waves.

My ability to reason was slowing down and I was aware of beginning to drift in my thinking. I saw a small rescue boat speed through the waves a few hundred metres from my position and I made no attempt to hail them. I noticed too, a handsome yacht sailing close by, but the waves kept me hidden from them. The ‘Clansman’ had turned and was pointing directly towards me and I sensed the binoculared eyes high on the bridge scouring the sea around me. I knew then I would be quickly spotted. It would be a matter of minutes before I was picked up. My disappointment was palpable, and I couldn’t help feeling angry I had been cheated from death.

The Rescue Craft Searching For Me - Photo: Hanna Capella, BBC

Minutes later I heard the small recue craft and men shouting. With practised precision the helmsman brought the craft alongside me and two pairs of hands grabbed me and without ceremony hauled me out of the water. I felt my ribs scrunch on the gunwale, and I let out a pathetic moan of pain. It had crossed my mind to attempt to fend off any attempt to rescue me but even in my increasingly befuddled state, I realised this would be foolishly futile. The helmsman gunned the outboard engine and lying in a sodden heap on the floor of the boat, I felt the thumps as the hull slammed into the troubled waves. A thermal space blanket was scrunched around me and a voice close to my right ear was shouting; “What’s your name?”. This was repeated until he could make out my gurgled and whispered response. I was now shivering uncontrollably, my cold body now exposed to the air and wind chill caused by the boat careening through the waves. I could make out some of the rescue crew’s urgent conversation, all of them agreeing it would be best if they took me straight to Oban. Looking skywards I noticed a Coastguard rescue helicopter bank and turn away back to where it had come from. Obviously, it was now known I had been rescued.

I think I had been in the sea for close to half an hour and hypothermia had set in. By all accounts I was fortunate to have survived. This was put down to my strong constitution.

I drifted off into a semi-conscious state because the next moment I was aware of was coming to in the warmth of the Oban Lifeboat cabin, enveloped by the all too familiar pungent aroma of boat and urgency. I was confused because I was now on a stretcher and wrapped in something more substantial. A familiar face loomed into view and a voice with some authority, stated he knew who I was and where he’d met me before. This had been on my 2015 sea kayak journey around Scotland when I visited each of the R.N.L.I. lifeboat stations. Thomas was the mechanic for the Troon lifeboat, and we had stayed in touch since then. Someone took my temperature and I heard them call out I was 35 degrees. My body continued to be wracked by violent shivering and it was nearly impossible to answer Thomas when he spoke to me. I clearly remember him urging me to remain awake and to think of the kayaking journey I was going to share with my paddling partner. I attempted to mumble back that the expedition plan had been shattered but my words erupted in a splurge of regurgitated sea water. I could feel the intense power of the lifeboat surging through my body and for first time I recognised a great urgency around me.

Again, my awareness of being lifted off the lifeboat and into the waiting ambulance is clouded. I can’t remember how this happened. I was beginning to fade in and out of consciousness with only a faint recollection of the wail of the vehicle’s siren and the motion around me as it made haste the short distance to Oban hospital. I think a canula was inserted into an arm by a medic with an urgent voice willing me to remain awake.

On arrival at casualty I was swept indoors where what seemed to me, a host of nurses and medical staff were waiting for me. I was gently but hastily transferred from the ambulance trolley stretcher onto a raised bed in a brightly illuminated room. I continued to shiver uncontrollably, my teeth now chattering a loud tattoo. My clothes were ripped off me, leaving me completely naked. It all seemed a complete blur to me, urgent voices, firm but gentle handling, cannulas being inserted, my temperature regularly checked, my modesty thoughtfully covered. My shivering continued and I couldn’t form any words. A hand suddenly and gently stroked my right cheek, a doctor leaning towards my head, her voice consoling me, telling me I was safe now and whatever pain I was experiencing would be taken care of. She had an Eastern European accent. Her sympathetic words unlocked my emotion and hot tears welled up and coursed down my cheeks. I cried silently while my body ached from my violent shivering. Her ministration was one of the kindest acts I have ever experienced from a stranger.

I was asked if my wife could come into the room to see me. I could only nod and soon she was there, touching my hand, her eyes expressing her fear and concern. I mumbled again and again – “I’m sorry.”

I remember then a voice asking if my spine had been checked and it was obvious this had been missed. I was immediately log rolled onto my right side, a warm pair of hands holding my head still, and fingers purposely prodded my spine. I yelped when my lower back was touched and immediately, I heard the words ‘MRI’ and ‘scan’. I was gently log rolled onto my back again, a brace placed firmly onto my neck and then I was lifted on to a waiting trolley, the medic holding my head calling the instructions. Despite my fuzzy state, I recalled how we used to practice this as mountain rescue medics in my days of being a member of various mountain rescue teams. I was aware of Mairi entering the room and touching me gently, her voice full of concern.

The trolley was trundled through echoing and brightly lit corridors of the hospital, into a lift and then quite bizarrely into what seemed to be an adjacent portacabin. The accompanying medic ruefully told me that this was a temporary arrangement while the MRI suite was being constructed. Nevertheless, I was aware of the scanner to my side. With the same purposeful gentleness, I was lifted off the trolley onto the scanner bed and instructed to keep myself perfectly still. I was still shivering, and I focussed my effort in attempting to bring this under control. The scan was quickly conducted, and it wasn’t long before I was being placed gently onto the casualty room bed again.

I was asked if I wanted to speak to the captain of the ‘Isle of Mull’ who had telephoned to ask how I was. I declined but Karen took the call and later told me he was concerned for me and wished me good health and recovery.

By now my shivering was within my control and I was increasingly becoming coherent. The doctor again ministered her wonderful kindness and told me I was to be transferred to the psychiatric ward in Lochgilphead. She said over and again, she couldn’t offer me the care I required, and I would soon be safe, and eventually I would get better. I could only nod in response, again emotion rising from within me. The sense of urgency around me was beginning to dissipate. The results from the MRI came back and I was told I hadn’t suffered damage from the jump but there was evidence of an old fracture on my spine. I was assured this would not cause me any problems. I would love to tell you this fracture was caused through some past act of daring do but I think it occurred when I was vacuuming a steep flight of stairs and I tripped on the hose, sending me tumbling to the bottom of the floor below.

I was covered with a form of bubble-wrap with large squishy plastic bubbles. A hose had been placed between my legs and warm air was blown underneath the covering to bring my temperature up. This was a rather pleasant sensation on my nether regions. With this warmth my body temperature was soon restored and the business around me was halted. Medics and nurses drifted away, leaving Karen and I alone.

There followed a slightly bizarre and uncomfortable forty five minutes while I got myself dressed in the spare clothes I had brought for the hospital and sat on the end of the bed waiting for a police car to turn up to take me through to Lochgilphead. Unfortunately, no ambulance was available for my transfer and they wouldn’t allow Karen to drive me. The police sergeant assigned to watch over me was kept busy managing his roving units through his radio and it was clear the police in Oban were having a busy time. It was mid-evening on a Friday night after all. I felt the need to make conversation with Karen, but this was desultory, and we ended up sitting together in intimate silence. From time to time a nurse would check on us and I was given a pair of hospital socks because my only pair of shoes were soaking. The policeman kept apologising and tried to engage me in conversation, at one point advising me life was worth living and not to give up. His words well meant, had no affect on me. I only nodded in response.

I was emotionally numb. I did not want to be where I was, and I felt some anger I had been rescued. It was a time of conflicting emotions. Despite the disappointment of failing in my attempt to kill myself, I was extremely grateful for the generous care I had received from the moment I was rescued. There had been no judgement directed at me, simply a warm response to the pain I was suffering which had driven me to my desperate act. I was embarrassed too. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I wanted the police transport to arrive as soon as possible to take me away.

Eventually the car arrived, and I was helped into the back. The door securely locked so I couldn’t open it from the inside. The driver did not say much but the police sergeant sat in the back with me and asked me a few questions about where I lived, what I did and other benign subjects. My responses were brief with an odd feeling of being disembodied – talking about somebody who wasn’t me. I was believing the true me was a complete failure, not fit to receive this unrequited care.

The police driver seemed not to worry about keeping the speed down. I sat in my own world, holding onto the handle above the door to steady myself, gazing at the luscious Argyll scenery passing by. There was an incredible warm orange glow on the hillsides as the setting sun lit the world around in one last flourish before it disappeared for the night. I barely registered the beauty. I found myself thinking of the inevitable. If I had died, I would never see this again. There was no sense of loss within me at this thought and again I found myself wishing for my suicide success. We arrived at a layby midpoint between Oban and Lochgilphead where I was handed over to another police car with another two policemen. The four of them stood chatting while I sat morosely in the new car, beginning to wonder about making a run for it. There was no possibility of me achieving this – this door was also locked.

Finally, we were on our way. Mercifully both policemen remained silent for the rest of the journey, no questions being asked. As the car pulled into the Mid-Argyll Community hospital, I experienced a sinking feeling. I felt a failure with no hope of ever regaining my health. The car pulled up outside the doors to the corridor leading to Succoth Ward, the psychiatric unit. My passenger door was opened and silently the three of us wandered inside. Miserably I walked down the all too familiar corridor until we were at the door. The entry bell was pressed, and the chime reminded me exactly where I was. With the two burly policemen standing behind me, the door opened, and a nurse welcomed me in. Without a word, the two policemen walked away. The door closed and locked with a loud clunk behind. Once more I experienced a curious mixture of sensations – feeling safe at last and a despairing hopelessness.

I was here again, my seventh psychiatric admission in twenty years. This had been my first serious attempt at suicide.

Karen’s Experience.

After two days talking to the locum GP and Nick’s CPN we were offered an appointment at the mental health unit in Lochgilphead. There was no guarantee of a bed, but I didn’t think they would drag us down there if the local staff didn’t think Nick was in need of care.

It had been a long journey getting to this stage and we were both exhausted. When Nick is this ill, I don’t sleep well; every sound and movement from him disturbs my night and I dread waking to find him gone. I carry on with life but am always wondering how he is and if I might come home to find him missing for good. He once told me that he wouldn’t kill himself when he had the dog in his care, and I try to leave Ziggy at home if I can. We spend evenings together but are somehow detached.

That day we got into the ferry queue and watched the Isle of Mull arrive. I was so relieved that Nick would finally be going into hospital. His safety would no longer be my sole responsibility. We took our usual seat on the boat and I logged on to the wifi. Nick did the same and then told me he was going to the toilet, ruffling my hair as he did so. What horrified me later was that I didn’t even look up.

I remember someone shouting  ‘man overboard’ and I must have ran up the stairs to the stern. One of the crew took me away as I was screaming and friends from the island came up to sit with me.

I have no idea how long we watched The Clansman and other sailing and commercial boats search for him. I heard the captain ask everyone on deck to scour the water to try and spot him. I veered from hysterical to silent, uncharacteristically not caring who saw me or what anyone thought. I slowly became more sure that he would die. Much of the journey is hazy but I do  remember wanting to deck a person who told me she had people all over the world praying for him. The locum on his way home came up to support me, correctly guessing that it was Nick in the water.

Then he was found. We watched them pull a body onto the rescue boat, and head for Oban and the hospital. Someone came to tell me he was alive. Tom drove our car to the hospital, and he and Marjory waited with me until my sister arrived. I was interviewed by the police and then allowed in to see Nick.

There was no ambulance to take him to Lochgilphead, so two police officers were assigned to drive him down. It felt as though I wasn’t to be trusted.

My recurring nightmare is what, if Nick had planned, no-one had seen him jump. When would I have realised what happened? How long before it dawned on me that he wasn’t coming back? Who would I have told? What would I say?

When he is suicidal, I try so hard to keep him alive but this time I failed. I often wonder if I am trying to keep him going for my own sake rather than for his. When Nick is at his lowest, I can understand him wanting to die. Depression is so awful and so constant that death is a release. He really didn’t have any other choice that day, and my regret is that I wasn’t able to prevent him reaching such a low state.

The loneliness of his death would have been the worst part of it. I want to die in the company of those I love, but he was forced to try and die alone.

The reality of life without Nick hit me so hard that day.