The 8th November 2017 was the day I decided to kill myself.
Being 40 and having suffered from depression and anxiety since I was about 10, it was a decision that certainly wasn’t made in haste. I’d had 30 years of periodic, often debilitating bouts of dark days and crippling panic attacks.
After being signed off work for four weeks by this point I’d finally reached the breaking point. I just felt so hopeless. A burden to everyone around me, I came to the conclusion that the world would be truly better off without me in it.
I think suicide had always been on my mind, or at least for a very long time. I think anyone suffering from extreme depression will always have at least considered it as an option at some point in their lives.
I managed to get out of bed to get my laptop, ironically it turns out suicide is a great motivator, and within half an hour of searching, I’d discovered several websites where not only could you find out methods of killing yourself, but also receive active encouragement and tips about how to do it from random members of the public.
It would probably horrify a normal person but I found these “how to” guides morbidly fascinating.
After two hours of immersing myself in the darker corners of the World Wide Web, I’d come up with what was effectively a pretty in-depth suicide plan.
From the method, to the hotel I was going to book, to the message I was going to send the hotel before I did it (so I wouldn’t inconvenience any poor housekeepers), right down to the suicide note I was going to leave behind, which I thought would offer a certain comfort and closure to those I left behind.
I was minutes away from preparing what I needed when a fleeting thought crossed my mind.
It took me a while to pin down, a certain voice in my head was telling me to just ignore it and get back to business, but I couldn’t let it go. Finally, I realised what it was.
I was terrified of what I was about to do. Something I was so certain of just moments before, now seemed wrong. And at that moment I did the only thing I could do; I sent my wife a message telling her I was scared that I was about to do something insane. In turn, she did the only thing she could do; she came straight home and saved my life.
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 available 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. 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 really wanted to! There was 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.
That 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!
I confided 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, PS 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 during this time that I wrote Suicide Watch to try and get down just how wretched I felt.
I wrote the following whilst I was under suicide watch in my local psychiatric hospital. I wrote it in the midst of it all, so it’s a bit raw and rough around the edges.
I awake to darkness, even though it's daylight outside. There's a man at the end of my bed. He's there to watch me sleep and to make sure that I wake up again.
I try to remember what day it is, but my mind is fuzzy. My memories are broken, lying in tatters.
I'm in the hospital, I know that much. And as bad as I'm feeling, I know I'm here for help.
They're trying to help me; they gave me a pill so I could sleep. I think it worked too well, part of my mind still feels unconscious, numb to the early morning sunshine peeking through my window.
The man sits and regards me in silence. He knows he's not there to talk, so he doesn't even bother with any inane chit-chat. My shadow, following me everywhere, to keep me safe from myself and from the hospital.
Wait! That can't be right, how can the hospital harm me? I glance blearily around my room and it all comes back to me. Slowly at first, but then in a rush. The window, the coat hooks, the towels in my bathroom, the light fixture hanging from the ceiling.
Hanging! That brings its own set of memories. Neural pathways lighting up. My shoes are gone, the ones with the laces. I know without even looking that I won't have my belt either. My phone remains dead to the world. The charging cable now seen as something illicit and dangerous. An overwhelming feeling of frustration forces it way up through the thick treacle of consciousness.
I don't want to be here. I want to be somewhere else. Actually, not somewhere else I want to be nowhere. I want to turn my mind off. Tear it apart and rip up the pieces so there's not a single trace of me left, my body can look after itself. Stop or keep going, I don't care as long as I'm not driving, but I won't get what I want, not today. The man at the end of my bed will see to that.
I turn away and lay down again hoping that I can lose myself in sleep again. A temporary measure at best but the only escape I can hope to find in this place.
But awareness clings to me stubbornly, refusing to let me go back to the dark. Instead, it replays the last few days in my head. Over and over again like an obscene highlight show.
I see lots of tears and worried faces. People with gentle voices dripping with sincere concern. They look at me and all I see is pity in their eyes, eventually they all become blurry and indistinct. I lose track of who's asking all the questions. I sign my name again and again on page after page of blurred lines. I could be signing my life away. They're welcome to it.
I'm on my own in this fight to try and end my fighting. Everyone around me thinks they know what's best, but how can they know? How can they feel the anguish and pain that greets me every day?
I hold it all close. Hide it inside so the burden will always be mine alone. But burdens by their very nature become unbearable given enough time. And my time is done.
Sleep eludes me, maybe I need another pill, maybe two. Maybe I should just have all the pills and end this charade once and for all.
Something doesn't seem right. I came here for help, I'm sure I did. But a huge part of what makes me who I am is screaming at the back of my mind that I don't need their kind of help.
Between the screaming it whispers in my ear that I just have to jump through their hoops like a good little monkey. Eventually they'll get bored with poking and prodding deep down inside my mind.
Another voice is whispering too. It's hard to hear but I think I recognise it enough to know it's not mine.
It tells me to stop fighting, there's no sense in carrying on a battle when the only enemy present is yourself. Instead it wants me to just be still. To just BE.
I almost listen, I almost latch on and cling for dear life to that one simple idea. But it gets swept away in a torrent of emotional pain.
Soon the torrent becomes an ocean and I'm back to the beginning. Drowning, searching for release.
I want the man to go away now but I know he won't. Even trips to the toilet must be chaperoned. How dangerous can a simple pee get?
What would be indignities to most people, previously myself included, have simply become minor annoyances to me.
The man at the end of my bed has seen me at my worst. A snivelling wreck, curled in the corner, tears cascading down my face after I thought there couldn't be any tears left. That thought brings fresh intellectualisation to the forefront of my mind.
How can this place be trying to help me? They broke me down piece by piece and left me trembling in a corner. They made me vulnerable, they made me weak. But that doesn't feel right either.
The only way for them to break down my barriers is if I let them in to do it. It seems more realistic that if there were any defences present in my fragile little mind that I would be the one best suited to exploit them.
Fighting against myself again, except it's not again. This is all the same fight. It would appear that I am literally my own worst enemy.
It's all too much. How can I go on living when I can't even live with myself? The weight of it all crushes me on the inside. It all just seems so utterly hopeless. Then I hear another voice.
It takes me a long time before I fully realise that it's not coming from within my mind. It's soft and gentle and it's calling me back. Back to the world I struggle so hard to exist in.
My overwhelming weariness nearly makes me ignore the voice but it's insistent. And something about it draws me. I awake again, but this time the world feels ever so slightly lighter.
The man at the end of my bed has gone. In his place there is a woman. She is staring at me with such hope in her eyes that I can't help but feel the dark ocean ebb a little.
This is the woman I love. This is the woman who refuses to let me go. It sometimes seems that she has kept me in this world through sheer force of will.
Without her, I would be truly lost. With her, my self- imposed burden doesn't seem quite so unbearable. She sits and just holds my hand. Nothing more, nothing less. And for today, at least, it is enough.
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 going to commit to my treatment plan and actively fight to get better.
The hospital provided me with a safe and secure space. It also gave me much needed structure and routine. I also received a really solid education in the fundamentals of mental health and how to focus that towards understanding and dealing with my own problems.
It also taught me what I consider to be a vital lesson. You should never be afraid to ask for help. Suffering alone can only ever lead to more suffering. Whether it’s seeking professional help, going to see your GP or even just talking to your friends and family. It can make such a big difference.
Overall my time as a psychiatric patient was life-changing. And definitely not scary. No dingy cells. No creepy, seemingly endless, dark corridors. No nutty professors. And not a single straightjacket in sight!
I was discharged after 7 weeks and in the months since I was discharged I’ve made amazing progress even if sometimes I can’t see it. Depression can really affect your perceptions in a negative way. I still have bad days, and to me, these bad days make it hard for me to remember all the good days that came before. But I’m so much better at recognising that now, and in recognising it I can try and deal with it.
I’m having continual weekly therapy and I still see my psychiatrist regularly. I think these are both essential tools for coping with my depression going forward. In no way do I think I’m ‘cured’. I still suffer from depression and me most likely always will, but now I have the knowledge and the support structure in place to lessen its impact on my life.
I also started blogging about my journey. Not only has writing about my experiences been incredibly therapeutic I’ve also received amazing feedback from people. The fact that something I was writing for myself has actually helped others is incredibly rewarding.
And through it all my amazing wife has been the lifeline I so desperately needed in the darkest days. One of my strongest fears is that my illness might destroy our marriage but I believe that going to hell and back has only made us stronger. She continues to inspire me to embrace the life I know I deserve.
Wow. What a story right? To hear Gary's story from the before, during and after his stay is a truly humbling one. We thank Gary for his honesty and openness and Mrs. P for her support.
Do you recognise any of Gary's story in your own experiences? How did you come back from such a low moment? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with Gary on Twitter, where he's @ParrToThePeople.