Living Without Dying

My last post was in the main concerned with writing about what happened. This time I would like to talk about feelings. Or at least I would like to try to do that. I’m not sure that I will be able to, but I do want to try. So, here goes..

I know that I wrote in my previous post that my immediate reaction upon waking in the hospital was that I was glad that I had indeed woken up, that I was glad that I was still alive. And that is absolutely true. I was. In fact, I am. But, as always, things are never quite that simple and straightforward. Naturally there is a plethora of emotions surrounding the fact that I am still here today. And that is what I would like to write about today.

There were reasons for why I was suicidal in the first place, and surviving a serious intake of poison does not take any of those reasons away. All of the things I was dealing with before are still just as present now. In the words of the esteemed Dr. House: ‘Almost dying changes nothing. Actually dying changes everything.’

Although, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am back at the exact same place I was before, nothing has got particularly easier. Yes, the happiness about being alive does help, gives me some kind of energy to keep trying, to keep at it a little longer, but, that isn’t in itself a magic cure. In some ways, the very fact that I am happy that I survived actually complicates things. You see, for me, ending my life has always been a viable Out, a thought that has been been my constant companion throughout life; I genuinely can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel that if things got too bad I could always choose to get off the train.

But what happens when you wake up, having very nearly fallen off the proverbial train and you realise that you’re actually pleased that you didn’t? Well, it means that you are suddenly in a brand new and very special kind of Scary Place. You are in just as much unbearable pain as you were before, but suddenly you haven’t got that Out anymore. So, somehow you have to find a way to live, without the option of dying.

I am not saying that I have left the option of death as an Out forever behind – as I wrote earlier – nearly dying changes nothing – including that, I suspect. But, for now, this option has been moved from being constantly right there on the table, sitting right next to my tea cup, to being stuck somewhere at the back of a bottom drawer.

I am not naïve enough to think that I will never again find myself sitting there at the jumping off place with both legs dangling over the edge, but I am also in tune enough with myself to know that this feeling, the feeling of actually wanting to be alive, is very very different to anything I have ever experienced before following a suicide attempt. And, I am – or at least I’d like to think I am – wise enough to recognise that this is a significant shift in me. And that I need to use that shift in some way.

But, how do you live without dying?

Well, the honest truth is that I don’t know; I haven’t got an answer to that. I’ve never been in this situation before, and I don’t really know how to deal with this.

So, for now, I am following a very simple rule: take each day as it comes and make no major decisions until I have some distance, until I can look at what has happened with some perspective. And I think the best way to get to such a place is through maintaining an open and honest dialogue with those around me.

That – and lots and lots of therapy.

Do be kind to your Selfs,

xx

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A Much Delayed Update

It has been such a very long time since I last posted anything on here, it feels all but impossible to try to catch you all up. And maybe it’s not really the most important thing in the world that I do? If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you’ll probably already have some idea of what sorts of ups and downs you might have missed in the last few months. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. And if you have only just arrived on my site, well, feel free to hop on board as you are.

So, I’ll just begin with where I am at now. Literally.

I am at home, very slowly trying to allow my body to recover from the hell I have recently put it through. I suppose you could say that I had been on a slippery slope to nowhere for a long time, and a number of weeks ago, my therapist started a referral for me to go to Drayton Park. I was already with the crisis resolution team at this point, struggling enormously with trying to keep myself safe. Being at a very low point, the only way I could really manage was by taking sleeping tablets. Paradoxically not to kill myself, but to stop myself from doing so. Perhaps not the best way to manage, but it was all I could do at the time. The referral to Drayton Park took longer than usual for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with, and being asleep most of the time while I was waiting was the only way I could think of to stay safe. After all, if I was knocked out there was no way I could actually act on my suicidal impulses. Right?

A little over a week later I was finally given a place at Drayton Park, and that felt like such a relief. But it wasn’t all smooth and simple. The depression and the suicidal ideation, the flashbacks and the urges to self-harm came with me. And, although I have stayed at Drayton Park about a million times [OK, maybe not a million, but certainly enough times to feel at home there] this time felt like a distinct travel back in time. You see, the only room available was the one room I have always dreaded being put back in; the room I stayed in during my very first time at Drayton Park. Yes, I have stayed in other rooms there more than once with no problem, but this one holds some particularly bad memories for me; this is the room I died in. And this time it isn’t an exaggeration – I was found lifeless in that room, and while I have no actual memory of it, I was told by the doctors in ICU that I had been clinically dead for a number of minutes by the time the managed to bring me back.

The reason I was found lifeless in that room all those years ago was my own. I had brought a substance into the place that I shouldn’t have, and being the kind of person who – owing to deep seated psychological issues – is far more afraid of being found to have broken The Rules than to tell staff that I was afraid of what I might do, and that I needed help, proceeded to ingest said substance. So, this time around, being back in that room, I was overcome by memories of standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom swigging pure poison from a bottle, quickly followed by a handful of Smarties to mask the bitter taste, looking at myself, hoping to die.

This time around I used my one-to-one sessions at Drayton to talk about these memories, about the sense of being thrust back in time and the feelings evoked, and I was immediately and repeatedly offered to switch rooms. But, me being me, I thought there might be some therapeutic value in being able to stay in the same room, look at myself in the same mirror, but having a different outcome. I thought that the feelings brought out by staying in this particular room might be used for healing, for psychological growth, even. Sadly, I seem to have completely forgotten that the reason I was back at Drayton in the first place, was that magnetic lure of release from life – and that I wasn’t strong or stable enough to do this kind of work at this particular time. And it proved to be a costly miscalculation on my part.

Prior to admission to Drayton Park I had purchased another bottle of a similar but far more lethal poison, and it was still sitting at home, waiting for me. Thus, part of the objective of my stay this time was to get me to a place where I would be stable enough to be able to safely go back to my flat and pick up the bottle to hand it in to staff, without having the urge to down its contents on the way back. I was working very closely with both P. and staff at Drayton to get to this place, we talked about my feelings, about the reasons for those feelings and how best to keep me safe – we really were doing everything possible to get me out of this perilous place I had been perched at when I first arrived.

Admittedly, at first there was a fair bit of pressure for me to bring the bottle back at the earliest possible opportunity, but this plan was thankfully changed, when I – with the help of P. and staff who have known me for a long time – were able to to explain that bringing back the Bottle before I was ready to do so wouldn’t necessarily make me any safer; I’d just order another one online, or I’d feel pushed to act out in some other equally dangerous way. [Having a severe nut allergy means that I am never further than a chocolate bar away from having the means to end my life]. Instead we planned trial runs to my flat where I would go into my flat but not into my bedroom [where the bottle of Poison was kept]. I’d pick up post or a change of clothes, but there was no expectation that I bring the poison back. This worked. Twice. In fact, during one of my visits home I managed to – relieved of any pressure to perform, so to speak – bring back the anti-sickness tablets that were also part of my suicide plan. It was hard going back to the flat; in spite of our best efforts to have strong safety plans in place and in spite of never staying longer than ten minutes, I never quite felt safe.

Partway through my stay P. went on leave, as did K. This meant that most of my usual safety net was no longer available to me. And that, too, was hard. Destabilising, is the word that comes to mind. I knew that I would not be able to stay at Drayton until they were back from their respective leaves, and that didn’t feel good at all. So, fear of going home – having still not been able to hand in the Bottle – intensified. Towards the end of week two I was asked to make a Week Plan, to add structure to my stay, which I did. Knowing how hard it had been the two previous times going back to the flat, I only planned visits home for every other day, so as to not overwhelm myself.

But on the very first day of following my Week Plan I knew I wasn’t stable enough to be able to go home, even for a short visit. It was one of those very bad days with lots of flashbacks and thoughts of how much better things would be if I were dead, so, I switched days on my planner, did my Tuesday plan on the Monday. And it would have worked out fine, except the next day was just as iffy as the previous one, safety-wise. I wanted so badly to be able to stick to the plan, though, since otherwise there would be fewer opportunities to go home before actually being discharged. And I knew discharge would be coming, whether or not I had brought the Bottle back.

I want to pause here to make something perfectly clear: there was absolutely no pressure from staff for me to go home that day – none, zero, ziltch – and that is really important to understand – they were all working hard to keep me safe. All pressure to go home that day came from me, and me alone. But, in the end I did decide to push on through. And that turned out to be a near fatal mistake.

When I first got to the flat on that third trial run I felt anxious, but sort of within the realm of what I could manage. So, before entering I rang Drayton to say that. All was good, I sat in the kitchen for a bit, I even wrote an angry note to my flatmates about the washing machine not having been fixed during my two week absence. Everything felt normal.

And then suddenly it didn’t.

I know that I went and took a sleeping tablet in desperation. At the time I really thought it was just the one, so, that is what I told staff when I called them in panic. They stayed on the phone with me until I was out of the flat and I got a taxi back to Drayton. I saw my main worker when I got back, and prepared to go to bed [after all it was a sleeping pill I’d taken]. We agreed that they would check on me every hour, just to make sure I could be woken up, since I have a history of taking overdoses in a state of dissociation, and I couldn’t say with 100 per cent certainty that I hadn’t done so this time, too. [Entering a dissociated state is actually far more common than you might think, especially for people who have suffered severe abuse and have used dissociation as a coping mechanism all their lives]. About quarter of an hour later I knew that I must have done more than just taking a single pill, because I was feeling nauseas and drunk and was losing control over speech and movement. So, I went straight to the staff office and knocked on the door. [This is, incidentally, the exact opposite of what I did that very first time at Drayton]. The last thing I remember is lying on the sofa in The Quiet Room with a member of staff next to me, being told that an ambulance was on its way.

I woke up in hospital. I knew immediately that I was in hospital, because nowhere else on earth are you met with those cold harsh lights, and those ugly tiles in the ceiling. That is my first memory. My second one isn’t so much a memory as a feeling, a feeling of immense relief that I was alive, that I had in fact woken up. And I knew that was a big deal. Every other time I’ve woken up in hospital I have felt nothing but sheer anger that I hadn’t died, wondering what I had done wrong, thinking about when I could do it again.

I spent a number of days in hospital being given antidote every twelve hours. And that was one of the most scary experiences ever. The relief of being alive soon wore off, and the fear of not knowing whether or not I would actually live – and what that life might be – took over. I knew that things were bad, really bad – not just from the vast number of tubes coming out of my body or the urgent frequency with which blood tests were taken day and night – but by the fact that when I tried to ask doctors and nurses would I be OK, they avoided eye contact and would generally mumble something along the lines of Let’s not worry about that right now, sweetie.

It wasn’t until the very last day, the day I was due for discharge, that I finally found out the truth of just how close it had got. I didn’t ask the doctors or nurses this time because I didn’t trust that I could deal with what they might have to tell me, instead I reached for the journal folder at the foot of my bed. And there it was in black and white. Multiple organ failure. Prognosis: poor.

Of course, by the time I read those journal notes, I was out of immediate danger, but it was still a shock to see it. This was what I had done to myself.. I had put kidneys, heart and respiration at serious risk. When the first tox screen came in they didn’t think I’d live, and if I did I’d likely have reduced function of at least some of those organs.

I have now been at home for about two and a half weeks. I am extremely fatigued and am sleeping most of the time. Any little thing exhausts me. I have had follow up tests and the results are not great. They aren’t anywhere near as bad as they could so easily have been, but I am also not recovering at the rate the doctors would have hoped. So there will be more tests to come. In short, I still don’t know the full extent of the damage I have done to myself.

But, I am alive.

And I have a lot of feelings about that.

 

I hope that I will be able to write more about those feelings soon. –ish.

xx

 

 PSI want to make a special mention that I have chosen not to share what has happened with my immediate family, in an effort to spare them pain and worry. At least until I know for sure what I am dealing with. So, should you be someone who knows me in person – and knows my family  – please make sure to keep this information to yourself. This blog is semi-anonymous, not for my sake, but for the sake of those close to me. It is also a place where I can safely share my feelings, and that means a lot to me.

 

 

Consequences Of One’s Actions

A lot has been going on in the last few weeks [or is it months?] since my last proper post. There have been some serious ups and downs, and I don’t quite know where to start.. So, I’ll just start with what’s on my mind right in this moment: my hearing. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

I’ve not really written about this before, because up until about a year ago, it’s not really been too much of an issue, or at least it has been an issue I have had the luxury of being able to ignore.

As my long standing friends will know I lost a big chunk of my hearing many many years ago, when I was about twenty. I was doing voluntary work at an orphanage in a village outside a village outside another village, in the Middle Of Nowhere, India. It was Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and as a special treat for the children we had bought fireworks and penny crackers, which they were allowed to set off. All was going great, big bright smiles all around, lots of happy dancing and singing.

Until one of the kids threw a firecracker up in the air and it exploded right next to my left ear. My whole world went silent in an instant. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, that sudden and complete absence of sound. I remember screaming, but not being able to hear the sound of my own voice.

Over the next hours and days some hearing in my right ear did come back, but the hearing in my left ear was almost entirely gone. I managed to see a doctor when I went into town a few days later. He very carefully examined my ear and hearing and confirmed the damage with a simple “This is not good” and a slow, sad shake of his head.

And that’s pretty much how it’s been until recently. I knew I could probably be helped by wearing a hearing aid, but I simply wasn’t ready for it, and since I was able to use the remaining hearing in my right ear well enough to compensate for the loss in the left, I just left it at that. Something was broken, but not enough to bother fixing it.. There has been a lot of “If you want me to hear you, you’ll need to walk on my right – if you’re only going to talk rubbish, stay on the left” going on over the years, but all in all, through a combination of lip reading, context deduction and plain ol’ guesswork, I’ve been able to fake hearing pretty darn well. It’s amazing how easy it is to just laugh when everyone else laughs at the end of a joke you haven’t even heard, or to cover up giving the wrong answer to a question..

However, a bit over a year ago I started noticing that I was no longer as able to compensate with my ‘good’ ear as I used to be, and – being fifteen odd years older – I decided that it was kind of silly to routinely pretend being able to hear when I couldn’t, and that I should really do something about it. So, I went to have a test.

The results were shocking; not only was the hearing in my left ear really poor, my right ear was also significantly worse than I had thought. I was advised that I was a prime candidate for double hearing aids, and that I should get my GP to sort out a referral [private hearing aids are horrendously expensive].

A number of months later I was finally given an appointment at an NHS hospital. Only by the time I had that second round of hearing tests there had been a distinct further drop in my hearing, particularly in my right ear, and as this wasn’t normal I needed to be seen by an ENT specialist. The audiologist told me that this kind of drop could quite possibly be down to an acoustic neuroma – a fancy way of saying that I might have a brain tumour affecting my hearing. Consequently, an Urgent Referral to an ENT specialist was made. For those of you who don’t know, an Urgent Referral in NHS/ENT terms means ‘probably around three months’. Thus, I spent three months trying to not give myself cancer by worrying about this possible tumour, while not being able to hear what people were saying, since hearing aids can’t be issued while you are still under investigation.

The three months passed and I very nervously went for my appointment, having absolutely no idea what to expect. It turns out that in those three months since my last appointment a second drop in hearing had occurred. More bad news. On some level I kind of knew this, but I had talked myself into believing that the drop was ‘just in my head’, that it was simply down to a higher awareness of my hearing loss, having now stopped pretending to be able to hear when I can’t – but – the audiogram clearly showed that this was a genuine drop, and not something I had imagined.

The ENT specialist sat me down and took an extremely detailed medical history, after which he concluded that it was exceedingly unlikely to be an acoustic neuroma, as only 13 people in 1,000,000 have them, and that my sudden sensorineural hearing loss [SSNHL] was far more likely to have been caused by my two most recent overdoses, as the drops follow that pattern precisely, and the chemical I had taken is well known to cause hearing loss in those who survive the overdose.

Needless to say, to me, this was quite a powerful emotional bombshell. I had been medically cleared after those overdoses and there had seemed to be no lasting damage.. But, clearly, this was not so, and I was now seeing the consequences of my actions in black and white.

The ENT person said that it was possible that the SSNHL might not be permanent, and that a short, high dose, course of steroids might jump start some hearing cells in my ear, partially reversing some of the loss. Ideally this kind of treatment is given within days of the hearing loss occurring, rather than months later, so it was in no way certain that the treatment would work, but he felt that it was definitely worth giving it a go, because whilst there wasn’t really anything to be done about the hearing loss caused by the initial blast trauma, there was still a slim chance that the more recent drop could be helped. I’d still need hearing aids, he told me, but I might be able to avoid cochlear implants further down the line.

I’m going to end this update here, simply because this is already a massively long post, but, I will write more about what happened with the steroid treatment and my hearing in the next few days.

I feel very aware that I haven’t really talked about the emotional impact of not being able to hear, or the fact that part of my hearing loss may have been caused by my own actions, and I hope that I will be able to touch more on that in the second part of this saga, because – of course – this is a big deal.

Until then, do be kind to your Selfs.

xx

PS. I’ve yet to sort my PC out, so I do apologise if the formatting of this post is a bit rubbish; it was all typed on an iDevice, and that’s a lot fiddlier than one might imagine..