By Aimee Wilson, Chair
When I began hearing voices aged 18 there were hardly any stories in the media about mental health so I was terrified that it just meant I was ‘going crazy’ and that telling someone would result in me being locked in a hospital for the rest of my life. The auditory hallucination was constantly harassing me and telling me I had deserved the abuse I had been subject to only two years before. I guess it was just a matter of time before I would finally implode… But my silence meant that my implosion came as a complete surprise to absolutely everyone in my life, and their uncertainty as to what had caused it, just motivated the decision to detain me under the 1983 Mental Health Act and admit me to a psychiatric hospital!
The implosion, in case you were wondering, came in the form of a suicide attempt. Do you know, I don’t even remember really recognizing that I was feeling suicidal, and maybe that was partly because I had never experienced that feeling before and it was so unfamiliar that I couldn’t label it or have any clue what to do with it. Other than to act on it. I can’t even recall planning the suicide attempt, I just remember wondering whether taking a ton of medication I had would ‘work.’
I began swallowing the tablets on the morning that I had three consecutive exams at College; I didn’t particularly choose that day… I think I’d just reached my maximum tolerance of the hallucination and had drawn a clear line in the sand; this was going to be the last day I heard that voice. I was done. I guess that having those three exams really didn’t help with my tolerance levels – in fact it probably served as more motivation for me feeling suicidal because it made me aware of just what I would be losing if I were to commit suicide. That my offer to study Law at Newcastle University would disappear – and with it, the life I had pictured for myself – because I wouldn’t have a future. And when that tiny little voice inside my head was attempting to scream for help and frantically and desperately trying to convince me that I didn’t really want to die, it was drowned out by the loud and authoritative auditory hallucination and all of the support it held for the idea of suicide.
Then, when I felt that I hadn’t finished my first exam, only completed half of the second, and just put my name on the third, I ran to my Head of Year to cry and attempt to convince of what I was no sure of – I’d ruined everything and had no reason to be alive. I remember she decided to send me home and as she took me to Reception to wait for my Nana and Grandad to pick me up, I asked to go to the toilet and swallowed another handful of tablets before finally, I passed out. My Teacher called an Ambulance and I was rushed to the nearest A&E, which I promptly ran away from at the first opportunity! I was so sure that the hallucination would never go away itself and that suicide was my only option if I wanted some relief, that I began to view the Doctors and Nurses as my enemies rather than the people who were only trying to help. To me, them wanting to save my life meant that we were on opposite teams and their stance left me wondering if maybe they believed I deserved the harassment I was getting from the voices and the memories of the abuse – even though they didn’t know that either of these things existed or had happened! The confusion as to why they were on the opposing team was a big reason for me running from the Police who eventually found me in the town centre.
Back at A&E and now detained under section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act, I continued to refuse to co-operate and the Act’s assessment team felt they had no choice but to detain me under section 2 of the Act and plans were made to transfer me to a psychiatric hospital after I’d been sedated and given the life-saving antidote to the overdose against my will.
In the psychiatric hospital, when I saw other inpatients struggling with hallucinations, I was somewhat comforted and reassured to know that there were others struggling with this and I wasn’t as alone as I felt. The comfort prompted me to finally tell the staff that I was experiencing hallucinations and when I was finally discharged two weeks later to the care of a Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), I felt fairly confident that things were going to improve with their help and support.
That was almost eleven years ago now and since it, I have attempted suicide numerous times. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I don’t remember the entire details of each attempt because I feel that I should remember something so significant. But I think that a part of it is about how poorly my mental health was at that time and that there’s probably a certain level of my mind wanting to block out such horrible memories. The other attempts I can really remember though, are the second, third, and fourth occasion.
On the second attempt, the whole ‘people-trying-to-save-me-are-my-enemies’ attitude was back in full force and my refusal to leave home and attend A&E for treatment for my second overdose meant that my local Crisis Team organized a Mental Health Act assessment take place in the sitting room! Once the papers were signed, six Police filed into the house and I was put in handcuffs and leg restraints and carried out to their van like a parcel! At the medical hospital, they had arranged for four mental health staff to stay with me for the duration of the antidote treatment (about 24 hours) and whilst I continued to try and run away, the Nurses began giving me sedative injections.
After the antidote, I was transferred to the psychiatric hospital and after talking to another inpatient I finally decided to report the abuse I’d experienced when I was 15. For the professionals, I think it was a relief for them that finally, they knew what could have led to the hallucinations. It was explained to me that because I had disassociated (distanced myself from reality) during the actual abuse, my mind had become more vulnerable to that happening in the future and that hallucinations can be a form of this.
I’d hoped that reporting the abuse and giving my statement to the Police so that my abuser could be arrested would ‘resolve’ how I was feeling and that I’d be less suicidal if I felt more at peace that my biggest secret was out. But when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute my abuser, I immediately knew that my mental ill health and my suicide attempts were not over.
The third time was the day I started experiencing visual hallucinations too in the form of rabbits. Once again, I was so terrified by them and the thought that my mental health was only getting worse left me feeling hopeless and suicidal, and I began taking an overdose. I can’t remember how I came to be in Hospital, but I did! I refused the antidote again but this time the Hospital staff used the 2005 Mental Capacity Act and restrained me so that I could be sedated and given the treatment whilst on life support in Intensive Care. When my Mum came to the hospital, she said I was surrounded by Doctors and she thought I’d passed away. The last thing I said before I was put on the ventilator was ‘I hope something goes wrong and I die anyway!’ and the first thing I said when I was woken from the coma and realized I was alive was ‘damn it.’ I feel like that says a lot about just how suicidal I was.
Further evidence of that fact was that my Mum told the hospital’s mental health team that she wanted me admitted to a psychiatric hospital and within days, my community mental health team had arranged funding for me to be admitted to a private psychiatric hospital specializing in Personality Disorders (my diagnosis was Borderline Personality Disorder) over 100 miles away.
After being in the hospital for over a year, I managed to go AWOL by jumping over three fences and getting a taxi to the nearest train station! By the time the Police found me in a nearby city, I’d swallowed a ton of tablets and they took me to hospital with their lights and sirens. In hospital, because I was sectioned the staff were allowed to force me to have treatment and I just remember being pinned down by a ton of Doctors and Nurses and they had found a vein in my foot to use to administer the antidote treatment and I used the toes on my other foot to pull the drip out. I mean, that’s how desperate I was to die. In the end, they sedated me, and I was put on life support when my blood tests began to show the very early stages of liver failure.
When I came out of the coma and they took me back to the psychiatric hospital, I was taken straight to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the side affects of the anaesthetic were wearing off and I remember feeling that I’d reach my lowest point. I couldn’t stop vomiting, I was constantly going hot and cold, I was so tired, and I had to have a member of staff sat next to me 24/7. That experience was a huge kick up the bum because I realized that this wasn’t how I wanted my life to be… And it wasn’t as though I suddenly wanted to be alive; it was more about me recognizing that I wasn’t ‘living’ I was just ‘surviving’ and if people weren’t going to let me die to end that, then I better start co-operating with staff and working on entering recovery.
I think that my two biggest barriers to recovery were the hallucinations and the fact that my abuser hadn’t been prosecuted. Fortunately, finding the right medication and the right dose meant that the hallucinations completely went away, and I was just left battling the thoughts around my abuser. I remember people would always tell me that me committing suicide or even purely self-harming was my abuser winning. They were right but being told it didn’t help – I had to develop the attitude and believe in it myself for it to be a motivation to stay safe.
After two and a half years in the specialist hospital, I was finally discharged and had to cope with the stark realisation that ‘recovery’ wasn’t all the professionals promised it would be. It isn’t linear. Being in recovery doesn’t mean that’s it and you never have a bad day and are always happy and safe. There are ups and downs to it. Because that’s life. In hospital, I had Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and in it, I learnt some safe and healthy coping skills so that when I would struggle, I could manage it without self-harming or becoming suicidal. But they didn’t always ‘work.’ Sometimes they were completely inadequate actually because I felt so completely overwhelmed by unsafe thoughts and the mere thought that self-soothing (one of my favourite DBT skills) would make a difference to this, was laughable!
Mostly, though, knowing these skills really makes a difference – like, maybe I’d go so far as to say that on more than one occasion they’ve been lifesaving. And something I question just how suicidal I could have been if distracting (another DBT skill!) myself with Netflix is enough to placate the thoughts and feelings. But professionals have reassured me that it doesn’t matter which DBT skills helps – or how ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ that skill is to do, the main thing is that it helps!
My advice & what I’d say to all those feeling suicidal?
Allow someone – anyone – the chance to help you.
Once you find out what safe, alternative coping skill helps you, don’t judge yourself for it.
You are not alone in this.