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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.