Three years ago I had a medication crisis over the Christmas period and became suicidal. I'd been prescribed various mixes of antidepressants over the previous years as individual medication effects had worn off. The final medication was the clichéd last straw. It did me in, starting that Christmas Day. Before that I had been up and down like the proverbial yo-yo, principally since the birth of my daughter thirty years earlier. Before that, I'd always been a moody kid and young girl, always wanting to be happy but not knowing how, exactly. My teens and twenties had been thankfully fine, allowing me creativity and travel and other adventures.
Me, aged seventeen, learning to fly with the Metropolitan Flying Club
(dad was a police officer) but, me being an impoverished student,
I ran out of dosh!
But three years ago, on Christmas Day, 'A disaster, dahling' dealt us a supreme shock. I remember sitting in the living room, feeling rotten, feeling that I should feel good and jolly on Christmas Day. There we go with the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' we've had drummed into us/me as kids. I couldn't stand it. I retreated to bed, foetus style, while Husband, then son - who'd returned from work - rushed around, ripping the decorations down.
This was the catalyst towards the start of my without-a-doubt miraculous, complete cure. Today I've never been this good. Ever. And I really, really do mean that! However, we weren't to know this then, and my brilliant Husband, myself – both a tad+ bonkers – and our totally brilliant, bonkers son went through hell for around three days. (All my family are brilliant cuz my beautiful, gifted daughter, a succesful author of corset-ripping historical novels, eventually travelled down from the Midlands to care for us. She might not be bonkers but her sense of humour can be rather earthy and surreal).
I don't have any idea of how long this awfulness lasted. I just remember waking up and starting to cry and growing worse throughout the day for a couple of days. It wasn't a feeling of low mood. I can't really describe it. I just knew how it felt to 'face the fire', which people who have felt suicidal have often described it. In retrospect, I described it as having had my brain poisoned. Husband was beside himself. He called in reinforcements in the shape of his family. They arrived. Husband and his sister trooped out for a much needed coffee while my brother-in-law me-sat. They departed. The medical services were down to skeleton (:-D!) emergencies over the festive period. Wasn't I an emergency? The outpatients department at our local hospital didn't seem to think so. Husband, in desperation over what to do, strode out into the quiet cul-de-sac where we live, leaving me squirming and howling in bed, in the hopes of finding someone to help us over this holiday period. Then a beautful vision in red entered the bedroom.
'Are you the doctor?' I remember whispering.
'No, Jo. It's Kate. Hello.'
Kate is a daughter of one of our lovely neighbours. She and her husband kindly drove us to hospital. The drive, funnily enough, was peaceful, and I felt okay for a while, and strangely comfortable. I didn't want to get out of the car. But we waited in the huge, horrible, echoing, crowded, impersonal public waiting room, my head on Husband's shoulder. Eventually a doctor saw me, but frankly, he didn't have a clue. He gave me a tranquilizer (I think), and sent us home. Whether or not I took this drug I haven't a clue either. I don't think I did.
I was in and out of suicidal state all day. Our own doctor eventually called in.
'Do something about this f*****g shit!' I screamed at him. He's a very laid-back bloke.
'That's the spirit,' He responded, 'Let it all hang out.'
Like that was going to help. I do like the man, a lot, but he wasn't the right medic for the task. He prescribed an antipsychotic which I ultimately used, and which probably did save my life, but this was early timing.
In the afternoon, the neighbours dropped in once more. Kate, in red, turned to her mum.
'Mum - how about the mental health team you used to work for?'
Those were the words that began my long, slow climb to complete wellness. I'll never forget it and I have thanked her mum, profusely, recently. She rushed home, retrieved the contact details and the next I knew, the team were ordering me off the drug I'd been prescribed. Why it hadn't occurred to us that it was this drug that had caused my downfall I am yet to decipher. We can only figure out that we were so in the depth of things, we couldn't think straight.
I began taking my doctor's prescribed antipsychotic, which made me very sleepy, but calmer. Our daughter arranged for my first appointment with the team.
'Probably two weeks on Tuesday.' Husband quipped to her.
The team asked: 'Can you come in tomorrow?'
New Year's Day?! Nil problemo! Awesome!
I was in dozy wreck state when we first met our nurse practioner, James, who's job was to assess me and decide upon the next step. He was brilliant. I know – I overuse that word, but I really do mean that. He duly sent us his report. I was 'Reasonably kempt' apparently. Hilarious.
Next was the visit to the team's psychiatrist, Paul. Again, brilliant. We discussed my drug, and the fact that our doctors had decided not to increase the dozage. Too risky. Paul increased it.
'That's fine. No problem with that.' He reiterated.
The plan was to stabalise me first, then decide upon the addition of a stronger medication. A few weeks later the stronger antidepressant was added. It's known in the trade as 'California Rocket Fuel'!
'Gimme!' I demanded. If anything is gonna kick my serotonin (the feel good chemical in one's brain) up the bum, it's that. It did. That and the cognitive behavioral therapy I was more than encouraged to go for. I'd always stated emphatically that I didn't need it. That my depression was clinical, which indeed it was. But years of living under the thumb of my well-meaning, dominant mother, and years of distorted thinking brought on by years of depression, had bent my brain. It needed straightening out. (I had always maintained that going on holidays had always turned my brain upside down and inside out.) The CBT worked.
Thankfully my brilliant husband (did I tell you he's brilliant? Just in case you missed it...) is scientifically minded and logical. He took one look at the leaflets and material that my CBT psychologist had given me and nodded emphatically.
'Makes absolute sense.' Declareth he. 'We can do this!'
And we did. Took three years, and he kept re-iterating: 'This is for the long haul.'
Basically, CBT takes apart your distorted thoughts and challenges each one.
'I'm anxious.' About what? Why? Is there evidence to support the thought? 'I'm depressed.' Why? What were you thinking to bring that on? And so forth. I found the 'what were you thinking?' part quite hard. Not how you're feeling, but what are you thinking about? That's hard. Slowly, bit by bit, I began to see the light, almost literally.
Three years later, and I'm still working on it. I know how it feels to feel fine. I know what happiness feels like. Although I wasn't actually depressed as a kid, I was terrifically moody, and I had my non-understanding family, mother, school, and then work to contend with. None of that today. My own little family, and Husband's family, are – dare I say it? - brilliant. All of 'em.
There came a point, around a year ago, that I felt the need to impart what had happened to me to those who suffered mentally, and who I felt could and should have similar treatment. Mine came about purely by chance, which actually made me feel pretty angry. Why had I not been told about the team? Why had it taken a situation such as this to take me there? The team preferred your doctor to handle things as much as possible because they're so stretched money and staff-wise. Understandable. But why should it reach this stage before they can step in? Ain't right. That's why I'm writing my mental health blogs, and to groups and sufferers, to get this message across.
There are still moments when the gloom descends. Particularly when I'm at home, if I've been home for too long. I'm no homebody. I love out and about. But habits are hard to drop, and, when not out and about, we go out for coffee in the morning, and, more often than not, return home for the afternoon. And my new state of wellness doesn't mind being at home so much now. To such an extent that I'm now hosting art afternoons with writing friends. Yippee! But then restlessness nips at my heels and I just need to get out for an adventure or two. Still working on that.
But compared to three years ago, well...
The year following The Crisis, both my parents died within days of one another (which actually left me feeling freer than I've ever felt), Husband's mum was admitted into a nursing home, and a close family member split from her husband. As Husband's niece so aptly put it: 'What the f***k?' Well, indeed, what the....? Blessingly (is that a word?) I was sitting with my dad in hospital when he died, Husband's hand on my knee. My mother followed within days. Of course I grieved a little. But compared to the year before, all this was zilch. Nothing. Nadder.
I was called for a medication review some months ago, and the doc was rather surprised at my medication doseage.
'It works,' I stated. 'After thirty odd years, I'm better than I've ever been.' When he asked if I'd consider changing the medication from five tablets to one of the same doseage to save the NHS, I laughed. 'Over my dead body! It ain't broke, so don't fix it.' He raised his hands with a smile.
Here I am with Husband, enjoying a Land Rover trip up the volcanic mountain on Madeira, the first time we ventured that far, two years after The Crisis. We returned last year cuz we loved it so much. And may the fun continue...