On Making It

Hello everyone! Yes, I’m still alive, I’ve just been very quiet for the last few months. After my marathon autism awareness project, I kind of lost the will to write for a bit, then I moved house to a brand new city, then I was busy enjoying myself and making this fantastic life I’ve got up here, and suddenly it’s nearly 4 months since my last post and I don’t know how that happened. I’ve also got to a point where, despite thinking of lots of things to say about mental health and autism, I want to write about the other thousand and one exciting things in my life that give me joy and make things interesting. However, before that, I want to write something important that I’ve been absolutely fizzing about for a while.

It’s been a really good thing for me to be able to write about mental health from the inside, as it were, and the responses I’ve had from people about some of the things I’ve discussed have been amazingly heartening. Now I want to finish the job, in a way, on this phase of things, and actually write about what happens when you do finally make it to the next bit, when you actually start feeling well and getting your brain, mind, energy, and life back.

Because here’s the thing. At no point that I can remember while I was really ill was the idea of what it looks like to be well discussed, apart from one session I attended at day hospital during my (incredibly short) time there. At least, not in so many words. There was a lot of talk about feelings, emotional regulation, dealing with things that had happened, exactly as you’d expect and perfectly in line with what I needed help with. When I started feeling better, however, I realised that I knew virtually nothing about being well, and how to get back into things again. Funnily enough, when you’ve been stuck in bed for nigh on a year, barely eating, barely getting out, and burning out pretty much every time you try, getting back into the swing of things isn’t a walk in the park, let alone when you’ve been down so long you don’t even know what the swing of things even bloody looks like anymore.

There have been a lot of surprises in the last 4 months or so. Like how weird it is to feel normal, to not worry about things at all for a bit. Like how easy it becomes to simply get up and do things of a day. Like how tired you get from doing All The Things that you couldn’t do before. Like how being that tired is completely different to the exhaustion you get from just going to the bathroom or making a cup of tea when you’re depressed. Like how you realise that you haven’t laughed that much for that long in more months than you care to remember. The list goes on and on, of course, but it makes for an interesting thought process when you think about all the things that Being Well actually allows for.

There have been other surprises, too, which were perhaps less pleasant, but no less important. It turns out that stressful events, like packing up one home and moving to another, and waiting on solicitors and whatever it was that went wrong but that I still don’t understand, can still make things snap, and meltdowns can still happen. Sensory overload is still a thing (because mental health improvements don’t overwrite neurology – who’d’ve thunk?). Anxiety, nerves, stretches of days where there are no Spoons and therefore very little getting out of bed, bad days and such all still happen. Post-festival depression is an absolute pain in the arse. Bad news is still bad news, and can still write off an otherwise completely inoffensive day.

Being Well isn’t, and was never, a process of running off into the sunset and just staying happy. I knew this. I have always known this. I have had a dozen people tell me a hundred times each that this is the case. It doesn’t stop the bad days being scary, at first, when they happen, or the thought process that goes “OMG this feels like *that*, and it must be the same and EVERYTHING is going downhill again”. Recovery isn’t just an upward sweep that’s uncomplicated and easy. It’s a process of going forward, falling on your arse, getting up to find that you didn’t lose all the distance you gained, and trying not to fall over again.

What Being Well is is much more complex to describe. Ultimately, it reminds me a bit of results days, of which I’ve had a few now. The wind up is incredible. You’ve been working like a dog to make sure things line up for a good outcome. It gets closer and closer, and it feels like things are winding tighter, ready to turn on a dime if one tiny thing goes wrong. You’re nearly there and failure seems even more catastrophic, and even more possible than usual. Then you get the envelope, open it, find out that everything is fine, celebrate, get photographed jumping about, and then realise that you have the rest of your life to get on with. People congratulate you on getting there, on making the grade, on getting well, tell you how great it is that you’ve Achieved The Thing, ask you how things are, but somehow you’ve got past that moment even if they haven’t. The result is in the bag. Now what?

One of my favourite conversations I’ve had with my parents since getting better and moving away was the one that happened after I realised that there’s a certain tone to asking how someone is that suggests some trepidation about the answer. There’s that apprehension over whether this is an OK thing to be asking, whether there’s a can of worms waiting to be opened, whether the news is going to be bad or worse. I can understand why. When the answer my parents gave their church friends who asked how I was involved hospital, bridges, police, self harm, regular visits to Oxford, chasing mental health services, endless spirals of NHS admin, etc, asking became something people had to do, to keep up with The Story. Now, the answer usually involves Mum wracking her brains for anything I’ve told her in our last conversation three days ago that counts as news, or Dad nonchalantly reporting nothing new while the other person looks slightly bemused.

There’s something out of whack with how we talk about wellness vs. illness. Yes, there are lots of different conversations that happen about both. There isn’t “wellness stigma” like there is with mental health, so the need to talk about it for that reason isn’t remotely equitable between the two. Sometimes, mental health problems can appear out of the blue (though it’s very rarely that simple when you look closely at it), so it’s natural to talk about stuff that throw things off balance suddenly. Recovery is rarely so short, and often, it’s a gradual process. Short of celebrating every small achievement (look, I ate three meals for three days in a row! I got dressed every day for a week! I brushed my teeth twice today!) and every small grain of progress, there isn’t really a way to keep everyone updated on how it’s going. Sure, I have friends who have known about my progress on that sort of level, but frankly, those who are truly interested in my success at getting my bins out or leaving the house twice in two days are in a rather small minority.

Then there’s the added thing where everyone is telling you that you will get there, that it will work out, that it won’t always feel like this. It is, hand-on-heart and honest to God, one of the most irritating things when you’ve heard it enough. It’s not a disbelief thing, entirely, though that does feature. It’s like being told the end of the story, but not knowing how the events are going to reach that point. It’s like knowing that Dumbledore dies but not where, how, with whom, or what relevance that has to anything in the story. “Of course I know I’m going to be fine, but how is it going to work?” It doesn’t stop me saying it to people I know who are struggling, but I do nearly always preface it with something to the effect of “this is the easiest thing to say from the other side, but…” and hope that they don’t get annoyed (which they sometimes do, and kind of understandably so). It can feel like unbelievable pressure from these people who expect you to do something that you can’t even visualise, let alone see a route towards doing.

When people have spent so long supposedly knowing that you’re going to get better, they’re often not surprised when you do. It’s really hard for them to share in the sheer wonder that you get when suddenly you see and experience the world in colour, and you can feel a million different things in a day that aren’t just shades of the same inner greyness or a pale comparison to normal emotion. For me, it wasn’t a given that I’d even be alive today. In fact, there were several points at which there was a definite plan not to be. If you’d told me a year ago that by today, I would have found a new home in a new city, a group of friends with whom I can be completely myself, that I’d even work out what being myself meant, that I would have rediscovered myself as a musician, found out that I am really a dancer at heart, met an awesome Someone, and be about to start on a new academic route towards what I really want to do, I’d probably not have even been able to muster up the energy to laugh in your face. Yet somehow, all these things have happened, and a whole lot more.

What I want to say, at this point, is that I’ve made it. Except, obviously, I haven’t. Because there is no Making It, if you think about it. There is getting through the last bad bit, and learning how to stave off the next one, which I have no doubt will one day arrive in some form. There is getting on with life, now the ball and chain are off my ankle, living the fuck out of said life (but not in such a way that I’m going to burn out, which is the current danger!), and taking care of myself. There is eating the elephant one bite at a time, as my Ma says, and realising that there’s quite a lot less of it than there was a while ago.

What I can say is that I am as well as I’ve been in more years than I’d like to think about. I am healthy, stable, phasing down my antidepressants, active, and happy. Maybe it doesn’t need an announcement, and maybe it should be enough to just get on with it without having to shout about it. Or maybe, just maybe, we should be as willing to talk about wellness as we are about illness. Otherwise, what have you got to look forward to? I didn’t know I had this to look forward to until it came and hit me, and I realised it was the misty goal-shaped-thing I’d sort of imagined existed. Hypotheticals only serve so much purpose in these discussions, but I’m prepared to bet my second-best whistle that, if I’d known what I was running towards as well as what I was clawing my way out of, I might have written this post a little sooner.

Advertisements

Staring into the Abyss

A warning from the start: this post is about suicide, and I’m writing from a personal perspective. It’s going to be uncomfortable. Please be advised as such before you continue reading.

On a date some time in the next week, it will be a year since the first of my suicide attempts in my latest spell of ill health. In that time, I have attempted to kill myself six times. It feels almost stupid to point out that they were all unsuccessful attempts, but I’m told it is reassuring as well as obvious. I am alive, and right now, that’s not a fact I intend on changing any time soon. I daresay I am even content with the situation.

I can say it unflinchingly. I tried to die. Perhaps that’s a peculiarity of people like me, or of people on the autistic spectrum, or maybe it’s really just me. But the fact that I can state a truth like that without the action hurting me places, I think, something of a responsibility on me, should I choose to accept it. These things need talking about if they are to be brought into the light and tackled, and tackled they must be. A brief Google search throws up some seriously ghastly numbers, summed up pretty well here (but also freely available in longer form if that’s your bag) if you’re after another cheery read. Arguably, of course, one suicide is one too many. The rates in the UK are much, much higher than that. It’s a big problem that’s only getting bigger, and one of the things people can do is be honest about it. At least, that’s what I can do, so I’m doing it.

A man I once knew but no longer speak to told me a story. In this story, a true one, the long and short of it is that a woman’s husband killed himself not long into their marriage. As it’s not my story, I will leave it there, except to say that in the telling of said story, the implication was that there was no hint at all that it was even possible until it was proven so. As far as anyone else was concerned, it ‘just happened’. The idea that someone could be in so much pain that their perceived only and/or best option was to kill themselves, yet without anyone around them, even their own wife, having any hint of what was happening shook me deeply, and still does. I had no idea, perhaps naïvely, that it was even possible.

Perhaps the even scarier bit, though, was the fact that this episode directly affected the person telling me’s life to the point where he couldn’t talk to anyone close to him about his own mental struggles (which were pretty severe, frankly). Having since met the woman in question, and knowing that she was in a position in the story-teller’s life that she might have been expected to be of support under such circumstances, this is scary. It’s a literal example of perpetuating an attitude of silent stoicism to the point of damage all round, and as a result, it took a long time for this guy to even realise how much his mental health was affecting him, let alone get help (though thankfully, he eventually did). I don’t know if he now has the support from those around him, or has even told them, but I can but hope that the cycle has been broken at least for that group of people.

For me, I know that, certainly running up to the most recent events in my mental health history, very few people would be able to say they had no indications whatsoever if I had been successful. It would have been no less shocking or upsetting for that, but I have at least been open enough with my mental health that I don’t think it would have been a total surprise. The main reason behind each time I tried was that I had had enough. I’m not sure whether or not I ever really wanted to die. It just felt like the better option compared to living. In Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive, he points out in the opening chapters that being suicidal doesn’t mean you’re not afraid of dying, or that looking into the abyss isn’t still terrifying, and I can honestly vouch for the fact that it is. It’s probably that that saved me, in fact. I was never numb enough to simply go without looking where I was headed, and in most cases in the last year, it was that hesitation that provided the vital point that changed the course of events. I suppose I’m lucky to have a brain that needs to rationalise everything into oblivion before I can do it, but I’m not stupid enough to suggest that that’s enough for everyone.

My therapist and I have, naturally, talked about all this. I’m building, with her help, a list of coping mechanisms for the various kinds of “moments” my brain decides to lob at me à la chimp with faeces. Things like breathing exercises, meditation, having a cup of tea, or taking a nap. I threw out suicide as an non-option, thinking it was what she wanted to hear and what I needed to say at that moment. To my surprise, she stuck it up on the whiteboard. “You have a problem you want solving in each of these situations. In those moments, suicide looks like an option, a solution, and if you’ve encountered it as a viable option for yourself, pretending otherwise won’t work. Our goal here is to find other ways through that will solve the problem before you get to the bottom of the list.” Without her, and without a whole load of help over the last couple of months, I wouldn’t be able to construct that list. It’s getting quite big, now, and I haven’t even considered the bottom despite my brain still having some faeces-throwing moments.

The fact that the help came after my last attempt, which I now understand was intended to either prove how ill I was or put myself beyond needing to prove it, so was, in some senses, successful, is a worrying thing. This was attempt number six in 10 months, the fourth within 5, and certainly after the last few, each time I was put in front of a mental health professional, I tried to tell them how bad things were. Even when I turned up in my pyjamas at a psychiatric hospital, telling them how much I wanted to die, they sent me home to recover. A month later, I tried again, incidentally attending the appointment the next day in my pyjamas again, accompanied by my Mum, trying to tell them how bad it was, barely getting the words out, curled up in a chair almost unable to speak. A month later, I tried again (though not in my pyjamas), and this time they believed me. That was my turning point. The real one, rather than one that deflected what I had long considered the inevitable, but the one that actually meant things turned around. I’ve had my longest stable period in ages, where I’ve managed to get out of the house and do things, start seeing people again, making plans and working out how to make them happen.

I did consider suicide to be my inevitable end, and it would have been without my getting help and support. Breaking the silence was only one part of it, and certainly wasn’t the end of the matter (I first voiced my suicidal thoughts nearly 10 years ago), but it was a start, and you can’t get anywhere at all if you don’t start. Keeping schtum about it buries the problem to the point where people like the guy I was talking about earlier can’t talk about any part of their mental health because it’s all been swept under the carpet together. Refusing to acknowledge it for what it is, i.e. a proposed solution to a problem, doesn’t stop it happening. Recognising that there is a problem you hope to solve by killing yourself is a huge part of the equation, because if you know there’s a problem at all, you can look at that and work out other solutions, with help. I will always have the option to kill myself, but what I also now have is the equipment to not do it, the other options that mean there’s more between me and that final option.

It’s working. I’m dragging myself/being dragged (I honestly couldn’t tell you which, sometimes) out of the mire, away from the Edge, and back into something resembling real life. When I wanted to die, it was because life had nothing to offer except the continuing struggle to get people to believe that I was really as ill as I felt. They told me I had six months to wait for therapy, and when I replied that I knew I wouldn’t make it through six months, they told me there was nothing they could do. I have since gone private for my therapy, which wasn’t an easy or a light decision, but was the necessary one bearing in mind where I was at the time, and with my parents’ support, it’s proving to be every bit as beneficial as we had hoped.

My point? Honesty doesn’t solve everything, but it does bring things out into the open that don’t serve anyone by being hidden. Accepting suicide as an option means it can be dealt with, rather than being a Great Unmentionable that we would rather ignore. We can’t ignore it until it stops being an issue, and it won’t stop being an issue if we ignore it. So I’m putting my bit out there, being honest, putting it straight, holding my hands up and saying “this was and remains a Thing. It’s not just my Thing, but it’s real”.  The hope is that by saying it’s real, it will encourage other people to see that it’s real, whether they need it to be for them personally or not, whether they knew before or not.

The other point of all this is that I am now alive. It’s been hard for some people around me not to treat me like a dead woman walking, and while I know it’s a lot to take in for those who love me that I was nearly not here, it’s also hard for me when they treat me as if I was successful. We’re getting out of that rut, and I hope that means that those I love are getting their heads around it rather than just shutting up. If we treat those who admit to having stood on the Edge as if they had actually jumped, rather than as people who didn’t jump and are therefore every bit as alive as they were before and need the help to walk themselves back, we do them a disservice. We suggest that they are permanently broken for having considered that option. The process of walking back from the Edge isn’t just a matter of backtracking. Once you’ve Looked Down, it changes you, perhaps irrevocably. But it doesn’t mean you’re not alive. Those of us who made it back from the Edge are still alive. Broken, in need of mending, in need of help, maybe (in fact, almost definitely). But alive.

If you need to talk to someone, there are loads of options, of which some of the professional ones are nicely summarised here. I can thoroughly recommend The Samaritans from experience, they are really excellent. Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t think you can’t walk back from the Edge if you’re there now or have been before.

White Coats (again)

I’ve wished very few people a happy new year this year. Partly because of the realisation that, in fact, it’s just another day, and it happens to have a digit that’s one higher than yesterday at the end of it. Partly because it doesn’t feel very happy. You see, I spent all but a couple of hours of the first 5 days of 2016 in a psychiatric ward. If you read my previous post about my time in the 136 suite at a hospital in Oxford, you’ll know how the story starts a bit, because it was the same this time.

I chose my outfit a bit more carefully this time. It sounds cold to say that, but not as cold as if I had gone out in my pyjamas again, and truth be told I didn’t want to be noticed as I went out that night, so I figured jeans would be a better choice. The idea of 2016 was too much, in the end, so I went out to do something about it. The details of that aren’t interesting, to be honest, although I daresay it takes little imagination to work out that my proposed solution was permanent. For those who know me personally, that’s not a fun fact at all, and I’m sorry.

In the light of the above plan, I left an answerphone message to someone I loved very much, explaining what I was about to do and that it wasn’t his fault, and that I would still love him to the end of the earth. I guess I faltered at that point, long enough for (I think) this person to alert the Police to where I was, and before I knew it, I was virtually hysterical in the back of a patrol car waiting for an ambulance to take me to hospital again. Being new year’s night, it was a busy one, so it took a while for the ambulance to arrive, and I should point out that I wish they didn’t feel the need to apologise for that. Anyway, I was taken to the same hospital I’d been to last time, in to the same cornerless room with the uncomfortable bed and rip-proof blanket (I’m not kidding). I arrived at about 4am, was seen by the Doctor and Social Worker at about 6, and it was decided that admitting me to hospital was the best and safest option. This is not, absolutely not because home was a bad place to go. It was a question of where I could get the best care, as it always is when you go from the holding stage of a hospital (be it the 136 suite or A&E) to the more permanent option. The ambulance came for me at about 8, I think, but having not slept or eaten, the details are very hazy.

So started my stay in the ward, which I will leave unnamed but is in Oxford. It felt very strange to be 20 minutes away from my home in this sterile, controlled bubble, with nothing but the clothes I was standing up in, my phone, and my keys. I was a voluntary patient, which means that unlike a formal admission under section 2 (28 days) or section 3 (90 days), I wasn’t pinned to a time frame for my stay, and subject to all the medical checks and being signed off by the psychiatrist, I could leave when I wanted. I couldn’t just walk out, but it made things much more flexible, and meant that I had more choices while I was there about how things went.

Time goes strangely when you’re in a place like that. It was only 5 days, in the end, and I spent a lot of it asleep, but it felt like a lifetime while it was happening. I met lots of the other patients, and it struck me how different my experience was to theirs, especially when you think that, of course, some of them weren’t there voluntarily. It was strange to be asked how long I was going to be there and whether I was on a section 2 or 3 before people even asked my name, but I suppose it’s a logical question. I calmed down a lot after my Mum’s first visit (she was in almost every day, for which she gets lots of kudos for being really awesome) when she brought me some more clothes, my Kindle, jigsaws, and my phone loaded up with audiobooks. I now had something to do, at least.

I saw the psychiatrist on Monday morning, and she talked a lot of sense about how I was, how my depression presents, and what sort of things might help in terms of treatment. She spoke about what was going on with me differently to how anyone had done it, but I couldn’t pinpoint what the difference was. Either way, I came out feeling tentatively positive, especially as she said she would advocated as short a stay as we could get away with.

There wasn’t that much “interesting” that happened over the course of my time there, other than the fire the night before I left. Someone dropped a cigarette in the bin in the toilet (no, we weren’t meant to have cigarettes and lighters on us, yes it was a big deal – apparently the Police are dealing with it), and it inevitably caused a problem. Nonetheless, although it wasn’t nearly as problematic as these places can be, it was clear to everyone, particularly all the staff I spoke to, that this wasn’t the place that was going to help me get better. I was discharged on the 5th of January, with the blessing from the psychiatrist (and I’m sure if I’d needed it, a kindly boot on the arse!) to go home to my parents’ place again. This time, there is a care plan in place. I booked my first appointment with my new therapist this afternoon, and I’m thinking about my plans for this year without nearly the level of fear I had on new year’s night. It’s hard to believe that, a week ago, I had been in there for 8 hours already, and that I really needed to be there. I don’t now, of course, but it’s a little frightening to me that I went to that level of need – it’s a million miles from what I know lots of people see, and I hate that I lost control so badly in front of the Police officers, though to be fair, I know I won’t have been the most ill person they’ve ever dealt with.

The point of writing about this has several parts. Mental health still needs to be talked about, of course, but I think there’s also a certain mystique about the idea of a psychiatric ward that needs to be debunked to an extent. It’s a place for people to stay and get better for a time, just like any other hospital. There are lots of things that are different, obviously, but in the end, it provided a structure that gave me space to settle out a bit. There was some settling out to be done when I got out too, and I know I wasn’t altogether pleasant to be around as I adjusted to getting out. There’s a lot about the experience that made me shut down a lot of my emotions, and I was warned about it when I got out, that there would be lots of things that would come crashing back. They were right, of course, but the dust is settling now and I’m starting to put things in their boxes and work out what it all means.

There are a lot a thank yous on the back of this story. The staff at the ward were very kind and understanding to me, and always gave the time when I needed it. Some were more helpful than others, of course, but the ward manager who admitted me was particularly awesome, and I’m glad I got to thank her in person. My psychiatrist is a fabulous woman and I’m very glad to have met her to had her help. My Mum, obviously, for reasons that take no imagining. The person I left the answerphone message to might have saved my life if I am right in my suspicions based on what the officers said when they picked me up. The officers themselves, who were kind and gentle as much as they could be while trying to keep me safe. My friends, old and new, who I had previously totally underestimated, deserve my thanks, and my apology for not trusting them to be there. You were and are there, and I had missed that. I’m a muppet, you’re all brilliant.

I’m not as scared of plans as I was, although it still can feel overwhelming. Either way, I know I need to leave Oxford, and I’m looking at a masters course that I’m interested in up in Sheffield. I’m putting things in place one at a time, as much as I can, and if I can just build up the bits of my life that have fallen apart recently, with the aid of therapy and ongoing support from my mental health team, plus the usual maternal input and cuddles from my grandparents’ dog, this might just work. Naturally, I’ll keep you all posted.

Until the next time then, good luck with this year. Happiness isn’t something I can feel or wish greatly right now, but I hope you all have a good one.

White Coats (or not)

Seven weeks ago, my Dad was taken to hospital where he spent a week being treated for pancreatitis, after which he took some time off work to get better and is now perfectly fine.

A few nights ago, I was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. I spent four hours in a special suite in a hospital in Oxford, being watched by a nurse constantly, before I was seen by two doctors and a social worker and subsequently released home.

The difference between these two sentences is one of the great injustices that somehow still exist in the twenty-first century. We were both ill. We both went to hospital. We both went home to be looked after. We both are or will be better with the right aftercare, precautions, and whatnot. Except that to talk about my experience isn’t really done. Mental health is something that takes a lot more to talk about, even in this age of raised awareness and understanding. Somehow, despite the fact that we can now talk about breast cancer with men and testicular cancer with women, that people are starting to open up about miscarriages, and all sorts of personal, painful physical ailments and events, talking about brains (something I’m reliably informed everyone has, despite the existence of internet trolls) is too difficult.

The perception of getting detained by the Police for mental health reasons like that is horrendous. The idea of being ‘136-ed’ was terrifying to me for years, with images of people genuinely dangerous to the public being taken down by The Men In White Coats abound (who hasn’t heard/made that joke at some point in their life?). Having at one time dated a guy who was training for the Police, I had a better explanation of the legal side of it all, but the process on the ground is, I think, very much unknown unless you’ve actually been through it. So here’s the story of what happened.

The details are unimportant up to the point where I walked out of my flat in my pyjamas, barefoot, and started up the Iffley Road in the rain. It’s exactly as mad as it sounds, no question of that. I walked over broken glass, through puddles, across roads without looking, all in a daze of unthinking, unfeeling (and not just in the case of my feet) determination to end it all. Long before I got there, though, the Police caught up with me, no doubt aided by the kind gentleman who called them after I gave him the brushoff as well as my Mum. They were kind, first and foremost, asking me what I was doing, where I was going, what I was going to do when I got there, which once ascertained, they equally gently told me that they couldn’t let me do that, and would I come with them. Argument was futile at this point, and I didn’t have the mental energy to do it anyway, so I ended up walking back with them literally propping me up all the way back to the van parked a ways down the road. There was no grand chase when it came down to it – the speed was in working out where I was in general, but once I was found, it all happened in a much more sedate manner than all that. I wasn’t personally aware of a single siren or blue light, though I was later informed that they were in use at the outset.

The next bit is a bit of a haze, to be perfectly honest. I remember sitting in the back of the van for a long time, the heating on to try and warm me up a bit in the absence of much else to do it (pyjamas, remember?), while they called an ambulance to check me over and take me away. This was the point where they told me that I was going to be detained under Section 136. It was done calmly, carefully, and kindly at all points, although I remember a brief frisson of cold when they dropped the bomb. I am absolutely sure it would be different if I’d been violent or aggressive to them, but that’s not an avenue I care to explore. The point was they found me in a position of unsafety and wanted to fix that, that’s the whole idea of Section 136 at all.

Once it was established where I was going, and that I was basically physically OK beyond being cold and seriously underdressed for the weather, we set off. I couldn’t keep track of where we were at all, but it wasn’t long before we reached my destination. I assume there was a handover, while I was taken to a suite specifically designed for this moment, and admitted by a nurse who explained again what was going to happen to me, what the possibilities were from there, and asked if I needed anything. There were lots of things that showed just how bad this process can be — I was patted down to make sure I didn’t have something secreted somewhere on my person, the blanket was a special kind that couldn’t be ripped and turned into something (Lord only knows what), there were no corners, etc. After the first nurse left, someone sat with me to watch me the whole time. It was awkward at first, but as I warmed up, calmed down, and felt a bit more human, I got talking to them. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, but they were again kind, encouraging, and ever willing to help in whatever way they could. I got something to eat and drink, and in all was there for about three hours before the doctors and social worker came to talk to me. I have yet more hazy memories of probing questions, endlessly kind demeanours all round, and working out the best thing to do. From this point, there were several options. Briefly, I could have been sent home or admitted to hospital on varying levels of severity, which include being Sectioned in one way or another. I was asked what I wanted to happen, not that I knew entirely, as well as every other question going, before they went off and deliberated, which process seemed to take longer than the preceding hours.

At the end of it all, I was released to my Mum. I spent a total of four and a half hours in the hospital, shorter than you’d expect to spend in A&E on a Saturday night. It was scary, I don’t mind admitting that. The suite I was in was attached to a psychiatric ward, and I remember hearing people shouting, presumably having a much worse time than me at that stage. If I’d been Sectioned, I might have been placed (at least temporarily) on that ward, which was part of the reason they decided that being sent home was the best thing. [Update: you can read here about what happened when I did actually end up on a ward a couple of months later.]

This long after the event, it’s easier to process what happened. I was terrified by and after the event, but I knew that writing this wasn’t going to be a bad idea. Trying to destigmatise mental health is an effort that many people are behind, and if we can break down my experience to exactly what it is, i.e. a trip to hospital because I needed it, I hope (perhaps naïvely) that it will help the process. Essentially, I went to the mental equivalent of A&E. It’s really that simple, for me. I won’t deny that it’s not always so for everyone, that much is clear, and it, like any other hospital trip, could always be more dramatic somehow.

I suspect the kind stranger who refused to take the brush-off from me didn’t think he knew what he was doing when he called the Police, but he may well have saved my life by doing so. His 999 call helped them locate me much quicker than just the information my Mum would have had, which piece of information is, I think, not a bad one to spread. If you don’t think you’d know what to do in that moment, you insult yourself: your instincts are, 99 times out of 100, enough for you to work out if something isn’t right, and just because it’s mental health, it doesn’t mean you can’t help. If you find someone passed out in the street, you call 999 and get an ambulance there. This is, in many ways, no different. Trust yourself, and the system. It works.

As a follow up, I spent a few days at home being looked after, and I’m now back in Oxford. I’m feeling better, and I know I have some treatment options coming over the next week or two to (hopefully) stop this happening again. The process sounds scary, I can see that, but ultimately, that doesn’t excuse not talking about it. Lots of the time, it happens as it happened to me: people get seen, and sent home because the danger for them has passed, just as they get sent home from A&E once they have their stitches or whatever. Other times, people do get admitted, just as it would happen in a regular hospital, for whatever period of time is necessary to get them better.

My parting shot is that although this might all sound horrid and scary, it doesn’t hurt to know how it works. We need to know about these things in the 21st century. There’s so much to be done for mental health equality and awareness. We can talk about taboo bits of the body that others have and we don’t. I knew about my Grandfather’s prostate cancer, a Church friend’s breast cancer, someone else’s miscarriage, another friend’s encounter with an STD. We all have brains. Why the hell shouldn’t we talk about them when they break, too?