“We are billions of beautiful hearts, and you sold us down the river too far, what about us? What about all the times you said you had the answers?”
- P!NK – What About Us
Once upon a time, I was one of you…
I remember the very first time I overdosed and all of the professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Psychiatrists, Social Workers etc) were so concerned because from the outside, it came from nowhere. No one knew about the abuse. No one knew about the voices. No one knew why I would overdose. No one knew why I would want to be dead. So understandably, everyone panicked, and I was immediately sectioned before I’d even gone through the A&E process! The initial concern and panic lasted for about two more admissions/overdoses before they replaced it with the ‘she’s-such-a-time-waster-and-attention-seeker’ attitude!
The change in attitude taught me that I’d actually been somewhat… reassured(?) by the initial response because it validated my belief that something was wrong with me. When I first heard a voice, I thought I was ‘going crazy’ and when the self-harm began, I knew it wasn’t the ‘norm’ and that it meant something was wrong. I truly believed that something had broken inside of me. So, to have professionals also concerned just validated my worry. I guess you’d think that it might do the opposite and that it’d be alarming to hear their concern – like when you don’t feel well (physically) and the GP says they’re worried; it’s scary because it can make you worry that there’s something serious going on. Talking about that example makes me wonder whether my opposite reaction is actually understandable because it was mental health and not physical. You know, people talk about them having the same importance and priority in healthcare services but there’s no denying how completely different they are, and I guess I’ve just given an example; there are things like thought processes around mental health care that may not be there in physical health.
“Hide away, they say, cuz we don’t want your broken parts”
- Keala Settle – This Is Me
The time wasting and attention seeker attitude came in the form of so many debilitating behaviours (on the staff’s part) that ranged from sarcastic comments, an abrupt nature, and a dismissive attitude, to blatant rudeness and a refusal to listen. I used the word debilitating because these behaviours weakened my already precarious mental health condition. I’m not going to lie; as much as I preach about taking responsibility for your actions; I definitely didn’t used to! I often blamed professionals for my responses to their behaviours. The way I saw it was that they left me with no choice but to cope through self-harming. And to add fuel to the fire; I was convinced that they knew what they were doing – they knew that if they made that comment I’d be in A&E getting stitches – but they did it anyway! Did they want me to be in pain? To be poorly? To die?! I think that feeling suicidal is one of the most powerful feelings in the world and to behave in a way that validates that person’s suicidal ideation is so completely dangerous. It’s like I always say in the mental health training with Northumbria Police; professionals literally have the – daunting, incredible, and intimidating – power, to influence someone to come down from a ledge or to jump from it. But when you’re poorly or ‘in the tunnel’ (as my Mum calls it) you look at a lot of things differently. The way I saw it, if professionals motivated my self-harm and suicide attempts then actually, no one could help because the people who – I thought – were meant to be making me feel better, were – actually - making me feel even worse!
In my recovery (over the last four years) I’ve thought a lot about the attention-seeking label and have come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t have such bad connotations. For me, my self-harming and suicide attempts were a way to make people sit up and go “actually, there is something wrong. What’s happened to her to make her do this?” I guess it became a case of believing that there weren’t enough words in the world to do justice to how I felt so the only way I could think of to convey that to them was by self-harming and overdosing. And with their new attitude, I definitely didn’t enjoy the actual attention it brought me!
“We were willing, we came when you called, but then you fooled us, enough is enough”
- P!NK – What About Us
I was so lucky though to have survived all of the overdosing long enough to finally be assigned to some professionals who understood me. My Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN, Psychologist, and Psychiatrist from 2011 to 2012 were amazing! My CPN was always available for support outside of our weekly appointments. The Psychologist helped me to understand the hallucinations and how my behaviours left me in an unsafe and unhealthy cycle. And the Psychiatrist did one of the greatest things that I’d needed during that time; she helped me to write and Advanced Directive. To be given the opportunity to use my well periods to discuss what I’d like to happen when I was poorly was really empowering and reassuring. It helped me to know that even when the voices were in charge, no one would take any notice of them and the things they were making me say/feel. To put it bluntly, when they were loud, I wanted to be dead but with their silence, came a passion for life. The Advanced Directive meant that professionals would appreciate that my suicidal intent was momentary and that actually, I’d like them to do everything they could to save me from myself. It was because of the Directive that when I overdosed in July 2012 I was sedated and put on life support to enable the Doctors to administer the life-saving treatment I was refusing to accept.
Being sent to Cygnet Hospital Bierley when they took me off life support was probably the greatest decision professionals could have made at that point in my mental health journey. Spending two and a half years with kind, caring, and specially trained staff was just what I’d needed after almost three years of the exact opposite.
Some might read this and think that the only thing that has stopped me from slipping through the net was sheer luck and I’d agree that it played a huge part in things but ultimately, I’d like to promote a sense of hope. To read how close I was to being forgotten about, and to now be in recovery and helping the services that let me down, stop it happening to others. Things aren’t perfect; there are still staff - and even teams of staff – out there that remain uneducated and naïve and, let’s be honest, down right ignorant; to the impact their responses can have but things are improving.
There is always light at the end of that bloody long tunnel!
Lots of love, faith, & hope,