It’s World Suicide Awareness Day. Or week, or month – I forget how long this empty virtue signalling exercise goes on. And I thought to myself, as a survivor of more than one serious suicide attempt, what do I really want people to be aware of?
I want people to be aware of how scared I am of getting ill again.
Some background: I was in a severe mental crisis for about 16 months of my life, from January 2016-April 2017. I have severe episodic depression, which makes my obsessive-compulsive disorder get very bad. When it flared up in January 2016 I thought I was a child murderer or molester. It is hell on earth, and I did not see a way out of it. Everything was just a black hole of despair, the joy fell out of everything I was interested in. I didn’t want to do anything. Anyone who knows me knows how up for a laugh I am, smutty, sweary, irreverent, BUSY. When I was ill I was just a humourless void, a bit like a walking corpse. Lads, I was fucked.
Things got very bad at the end of 2016 and I was admitted to the bin three times – on two occasions attempting suicide due to various factors, but being weaned off opiates too quickly was one, and going onto antidepressants that didn’t suit me was another. These medication issues led to very bad akathisia (an inability to stop moving) which often leads to suicide attempts.
After the second attempt I ended up getting sectioned and spent over three months on an acute ward. You can read parts of my story over on my blog.
Anyway so I was really ill, right? And you’d think it’s the worst thing about being in recovery, that fear of getting that sick again?
It is, but not in the way you think.
The symptoms of the illness, as bleak as they were, are not the thing I’m most worried about if things go south.
[DISCLAIMER: I had a lot of help compared to some people I know, but the bar is extremely low. I am also super privileged: I’m white, educated, intelligent, with a stable family and partner who can provide for me. I have lots of good friends around me. I had work I enjoyed and valued to go back to. I’ve never had to deal with the DWP. I’m cisgendered, straight and physically abled. In my case I also won the postcode lottery in terms of getting access to the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at the Maudsley Hospital, one of the only specialist centres for treating OCD in the country. AND IT WAS STILL ABSOLUTELY BLOODY AWFUL FOR ME.]
Here is why I’m really worried about getting ill again:
I’m worried about getting ill again because I might have difficulty even persuading my GP to refer me to the CMHT. I might end up with absolutely no help for a severe crisis where my brain is trying to kill me.
I am worried that if I am referred to the CMHT, I might only be able to see a patronising CPN once a week for three months, with very occasional psychiatrist meetings. Things the CPN said to me have included ‘Well, if you’re going to kill yourself it’s your choice’.
I am worried that if I present at A&E because I feel unsafe and I’m fighting an almighty battle in my head to try and not kill myself, I will likely be sat there for hours before a condescending member of staff comes and tells me to go home because I am attention seeking. Damn straight I’m attention seeking. I’m fucking poorly.
I am worried that if I get referred to the Crisis Team, they will probably come to my house once a day for a month for about 10 minutes at a time. They will tell me to do a crossword or have a bath when I tell them I feel unsafe and suicidal.
I am worried that if I go into an acute ward, I will be treated like a child, punished for harming myself, and patronised beyond belief. I will be assumed to have so-called ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’* and ‘punished’ by staff accordingly. I will be completely at the mercy of whichever staff are on the ward on a given shift, and whatever patients are in at the same time as me. Patients I developed real beef with while in there last time might also be there (you end up falling out over stuff like ‘who gets the jacket potato for lunch’ and ‘who gets to choose which channel the telly is on’, because you revert to being a toddler). Staff I complained about after I left might be there. It scares me shitless.
I am worried that if I need to access my specialist treatment centre again, there will be a six month plus waiting list even after I am accepted on assessment. This nearly killed me last time.
I am worried that if I need to go off work again, I will have to deal with Occupational Health. This has been both a positive and terrible experience for me at different times.
I am worried that if something happens to my partner and/or parents, I will have to deal with the DWP in order to be able to eat. This is unlikely, but possible.
All these worries are actually scarier to me than the symptoms of my illness.
Please stop telling us to ask for help, and start thinking about how society and the psychiatric system needs to change in order for people to receive the care and help they need.
I ‘recovered’ despite the system, not because of it.
by Jo Edge @hagenilda
*I’m aware this is a very controversial diagnosis and do not wish to denigrate anyone’s experience.
Please also see RITB Position statement on BPD