So here’s a funny thing, they don’t teach you much about suicide at school.
In fact I don’t remember any point in my life that I’d ever had a serious conversation with anyone about the subject.
Suicide, as a concept, had been floating around in my mind since I was about 10. But even with my morbid interest, I certainly wouldn’t say I was an expert. I suppose anyone who would claim to be such a thing is no longer with us to make that boast.
So after I found myself still on this mortal coil after an aborted suicide attempt, I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to move forward. The love I had for my wife was enough to get me to take a step back from the edge, but now that I was back on solid ground, I wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to stay there.
Turns out my psychiatrist knew exactly what I needed to do; after an emergency consultation he recommended a stay in a private psychiatric hospital.
Initially I was very reluctant to take that step. At the mere mention of a psychiatric hospital, I instantly began conjuring up memories of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. A bunch of broken people in white pyjamas shuffling aimlessly around a broken down open hospital ward; a Nurse Ratched in a starched white uniform looking on disapprovingly from the corner, and, if you don’t behave yourself off you go to have gruesome electro shock therapy to turn you into a mindless vegetable.
I can honestly say it was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but one look at my wife with tears streaming down her face was enough to convince me. Even if I didn’t have enough will to live for myself, she had more than enough for both us.
A bed was found for me and it was avaliable the very next day. So after one more sleepless night, off I went to get checked in.
If I’m honest, the first day is still a bit of a blur; I was assessed by a doctor and a psychologist and I helped come up with a therapy and treatment plan based on my assessment (I still have no memory of this even though my wife has repeatedly assured me that I was in fact present!). It was after all this that I discovered that the private hospital I was in was less One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and more like a Travelodge - I had my own private, ensuite room and I only had to wear white pyjamas if I’d actually brought some with me... and I really really wanted to! There were no Nurse Ratcheds in sight. Instead, everyone I met, from the nursing staff to the doctor on call, was compassionate and understanding. I was made to feel at ease.
I was immediately put on 15 minute checks, which meant I had to put up with being disturbed four times an hour to see if I was ok. Even this was done very subtly and respectively. All in all it wasn’t the horrific experience I was expecting, and no one even batted an eyelid when I was open and honest about being suicidal, they just took it in their stride. I started to actually believe I was in the right place after all.
This didn’t stop me from doing a ‘suicide assessment’ on my room as soon as I could; I took careful note of anything and everything that may enable me to end my life. But it seemed they’d done a great job suicide proofing everything - I would have been impressed if I didn’t feel so disappointed!
My first five days “inside” were probably the toughest five days I’ve ever had. The simple act of talking to my psychiatrist, being admitted to a psych ward, meeting and talking to several therapists and accepting I was actually in a safe place didn’t miraculously cure me like I thought it would.
I was still depressed.
In fact I think I was even more depressed because I’d been taken out of my comfort zone. Being surrounded by other patients who were suffering didn’t do my anxiety levels any favours either! But the saddest thing of all is that I still thought ending my life might still be my best option.
I’m slowly starting to learn that when it comes to mental health it takes a whole lot of commitment and hard work to pull yourself back from the brink of oblivion. There are no quick fixes or magic pills. But during my first five days I was expecting to see instant results.
I was fool. Misguided and uneducated, but a fool none the less.
It was this foolishness that led me to confiding in one of the nursing staff that I’d been trying to formulate a way to kill myself whilst under their care. Within minutes of that conversation my psychiatrist was consulted and it was decided that I was too much of a risk on my own. I was immediately put on one to one observation, which is just a nice name for suicide watch really. A member of nursing staff had to be with me at all times, literally 24 hours a day. The poor buggers had to watch me eat, sleep and go about my day-to-day moping.
It was a tough experience - I’d never had my sense of personal freedom compromised so effectively. But it definitely made me safe from myself.
After two days of this round the clock observation I was finally humbled.
It was at this point that I finally started to believe that maybe my life was worth living after all. These people weren’t watching me all day and night for the good of their health - it was all for the good of mine. This was also the point that I made a promise to myself that I was gonna commit to my treatment plan and actively fight to get better.
My one to one observation was scaled back down to every 15 mins. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated my own company as much as I did on that fifth day.
And thus began the end of the beginning.
This blog is one of two telling this story from the perspective of Gary and his wife Fran. You can read Fran’s account here