To Hell and Back, a Man’s Struggle with Suicidal Ideation
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
I was meant to be in a place of safety. I was a patient on an acute psychiatric ward, sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The reason for my detention was that I was a danger to myself and others around me. In the UK being detained is when the State takes away your liberty for a period of time in order to treat you and for the protection of others.
Being ‘sectioned’, means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act. There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital. The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are detained under.
I felt isolated and very alone, all I wanted to do was to scream out and ask for help. However, this can be a challenging task if you are not used to asking for what you need. It was an alien concept to me. You would think this is an easy task to do, after all, you just have to open your mouth and let the words come out. For me this felt like a near to impossible task. One reason for this was my issue with trust. I trusted no one in my life even though I had several friends. I believe my trust issues stem from me early childhood. I was raised in a strict catholic family, and I was taught to distrust authority figures.
I sat nervously, perched on my unmade hospital bed, tears still rolling down my freshly washed face. I was of the incorrect belief that my own family was ashamed of me and had abandoned me in my hour of need. How did I come to this decision? I wrongly believed, in my mixed up head, having a son and a brother locked up on a mental ward, others might see me as crazy. I thought that I was an embarrassment to the family name. I had finally reached rock bottom. I could fall no further into the abyss.
I had come to the stalk realisation that my only true friends were that of my sister Lisa and my troubled thoughts. Lisa did not judge me on my past actions and was my only true rock in life. There is so much a person can take in this life because we are only human. We all have that breaking point. Mine was when the emotional and psychological problem that I expertly suppressed over the years came to the surface with a vengeance. I did not have the tools or understanding to deal with it. I could no longer cope with life and its challenges. During this time, I was constantly on edge and paranoid.
I was an emotional time bomb waiting to explode. Rather than hurting the ones I loved, I decided to take my own life. Many people think that suicide is the coward’s way out and an easy decision to come to, however in reality it is a soul destroying decision to have to come to. I was in the mindset that my loved ones and society would be better off without me. I felt like one extra problem that people could do without.
After painful deliberation, I finally plucked up the remainder of the courage that I had left, tears still rolling down my cheeks. I proceeded to rummage around my hospital room for something that resembled a pen and paper so I could pen a final note to my family and also an apology for being a burden. This was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. Trying to explain to a twelve year old, that his uncle was sorry for the actions. I told him I was proud of him, I knew he was going to grow up with good principles. And finally I added a PS to look after my sister, his mum. I calmly put the pen and paper on my bed. The tears were starting to roll onto the letter that I had written.
I waited for a few minutes, my watch seemed to have stopped or perhaps that was my perception at the time. My head was spinning; my emotions were all over the place. All I wanted was someone to take me by the hand and tell me everything was going to be okay, to comfort me, but from painful experiences of my past, I knew this was not coming. I then proceeded to go to the nurses’ station to ask the nurse in charge if I could have some unescorted leave to the local shop. I was paranoid that the nurse would see my distress and deny me the leave, after all these people are meant to be trained to spot this kind of behaviour. The ward staff nurse authorised my leave, I proceeded to the petrol station via the local shop, to purchase the lighter, which I subsequently used to douse myself in fuel.
The walk to the local shop only took five minutes, however my emotions were all over the place throughout this stroll. They ranged from total numbness to relief. I knew that my emotional pain would soon be over. I had convinced myself in my emotionally unbalanced mind how I was going to end it. I was going to do it in the most gruesome way imaginable. I was not thinking rationally. I was of the opinion that I would go to my next destination in physical pain rather than emotional pain.
From the shop, the walk to the petrol station was just over a mile and a half away. Time seemed to have stopped and on the way ironically I nearly got run over twice. I was distracted, I can remember walking past a motorway bridge and thinking to myself, just get it over with and do us all a favour and just jump, but no, I had my heart set on the petrol station. Why? I wanted to end it in the most gruesome way imaginable. The more I walked towards the petrol station, the more intrusive the negative thoughts I experienced became.
My thought process was offline. I was not thinking rationally. Why did I not just turn back and go ask for help from the medics at the hospital? The mental pain that I was suffering was too much.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally arrived at the petrol station. By this time, my thoughts were even more disturbing. All I wanted to do was burn to death and get rid of my unbearable emotional baggage. By this time, I was feeling as sick as a parrot and my heart was pounding. In some way, I was excited, knowing that my mental pain would soon be over. The first thing I noticed was a kind and little old lady behind the counter. However by the time she realised what was about to happen it was too late, I had doused myself from top to toe in petrol and was attempting to light it myself on fire. The innocent old lady showed tremendous courage and bravery on that very distressing night. One can only hope that one day she can find it in her heart to forgive me for my actions.
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The cheap lighter that I had purchased from the local shop did not work. There was no spark, just my luck I thought, or was someone higher above looking after me that night? If it was not for that polite little old lady and the total professionalism of the emergency workers, myself and half the village of Whiston would have exploded into a fireball. I could have potentially killed innocent people that night.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to the very brave police officer whose dedication truly went beyond the call of duty and whose actions saved countless lives that night. This unnamed officer managed to talk me down and I was swiftly taken by ambulance to the nearest mental health assessment unit. Ironically, it was at the same hospital I had just come from. Throughout this distressing journey the same police officer stayed by my side and never left me, constantly reassuring me and telling me I was going to a place of safety for the treatment that I desperately needed.
On arrival at the mental health unit, I was immediately assessed by two Doctors and a Social Worker. After the assessment I was placed on a different section of the Mental Health Act. Subsequently, I spent seven months in the psychiatric intensive care unit so the staff could keep me safe before being transferred to a specialist hospital for treatment.
My ride had arrived to transport me to Cygnet Oaks Hospital; I can remember the journey went without any hitches, a cheeky stop off at the local McDonalds in Barnsley, my treat. As we approached the main gate to the Hospital, the cogs in my head went into overdrive. Why are you here? To get the help you need, you idiot, I thought to myself. This was the start of my remarkable journey to recovery; I was a very broken man on a downward spiral. I had no future goals or aspirations in life.
Within days my intense treatment programme commenced. For psychology to be effective you have to trust the psychologist, and you have to be open and honest not only to the psychologist but also to yourself. I found that part initially very difficult, as I had grown up not trusting people in authority.
When I first met Caroline my initial thought was, “What does she know about my life? Plus she looks like she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.” Admittedly, I was wrong. As my psychological treatment continued, I found a new respect for Caroline. I soon came to realise I needed someone like Caroline in my corner, fighting for me. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, which I initially resisted. Caroline persevered and eventually managed to chip away at my negative emotional shutters, which had kept me sick for many years.
The type of psychological treatment I was receiving at Cygnet Oaks was called Schema Therapy. I found that all the negative emotions and memories I had suppressed over the years came to the surface. They hit me like a brick, smashed right into my face. But with the expert help from Caroline we worked through these memories, one at a time. I felt I was in a safe environment to process these things. When I was first told about Schema Therapy I thought to myself what a load of gobbledygook. Over the years, I have encountered numerous types of therapies, but nothing like Schema Therapy. As I progressed through the programme I realised I need this type of therapy. Admittedly, it has not always been a labour of love between Caroline and me. She took me out of my comfort zone, where I had been you many years. At times I did not have the energy to get out of the hospital bed. Caroline and the rest of the team had the skills, experience and the patience to listen to me and to help me work through my many problems.
Throughout our lives we all will experience some form of negative thinking and our emotions will play an important part of this. My emotions were “offline” and this was having a serious impact on my life. Through Schema Therapy they came back “online.” Working through difficult emotions in a safe and comfortable environment is essential.
I have since left Cygnet Oaks Hospital and am living independently in my own flat. I am starting to achieve some of the goals that I set whilst at Cygnet Oaks, including studying for a BA (Honours) in Criminology and law. Whilst I was still at Cygnet Oaks I was the patient representative and with that came great responsibility. I would like to go into a field that will help people who have been through what I have been through. Because of all the hard work the team at Cygnet put into treating me, I am truly a changed person. I now have clear goals and future aspirations. Over the past couple of years, Clodagh, Caroline and the rest of the dedicated team at Cygnet Oaks have taught me many life changing skills. I will especially miss Caroline, because she has been an important part of my recovery journey and will enjoy putting the stuff she has taught me into practice.
I know that outside of Cygnet Oaks there will be many prejudices that someone like me will face when back in society. However this is a challenge that I will relish in. I now see rejection, not as negative, but as a challenge. I can honestly say that the broken shell of a man who first entered the gates of the hospital, confused, nervous, and broken is no longer that person. I am a more focused and confident person. I am thankful for my time in the hospital and learning to regulate my emotions and work through difficult experiences.