It’s the middle of the night and I sit up choking. I’m drowning, as thoughts flood my mind. Waking, drenched in perspiration, and in a state of panic, I gasp for breath. I’m momentarily reliving the moment a ligature tightens around my neck, slowly squeezing life from me.
As I sink into unconsciousness, I’m discovered by a nurse. The incident has been filed in the deep recesses of my mind. It is not something I choose to readily recall, and which I have never publicly shared. I surmise you may understand why.
It was when I had become so unwell that I had been admitted to a secure psychiatric ward to keep me safe, and to help me recover. Ironically it did neither. And it is a place, and a time, I have vowed I will never, ever, go back to – I will do whatever I have to do. Only the love and support of family and friends, and a caring employer enabled me to recover from the shuffling shell of the man I had become.
I was in the grip of a very severe depression, but didn’t respond to treatment. As if things weren’t already bad enough I became psychotic, and also couldn’t sit or standstill, a condition I later learned was termed psycho motor agitation (I was tormented by dark thoughts circulating in an endless loop). I was so bad patients would deliberately trip me up as I did another lap of the corridor, or they would make violent threats. Some were carried out, although not on me, with other patients suffering even greater harassment, or serious physical injuries.
I later discovered that ligatures are a very effective means of strangulation, although I didn’t know this when I had stripped a lace from my trainer in desperation and tied it to a door handle. Many secure psychiatric wards now have anti ligature door handles, although radiators, window handles and bed frames also provide anchor points.
I regularly attempted to escape from nurses who periodically escorted me outside the ward, as I was convinced that they were going to kill me, and eventually I refused to shift from my room as I felt so unsafe, anxious, and, to be honest, lost. I had lost any sense of who I was, my sense of purpose, and any hope that this would all end well. I was looking into the abyss, and it was petrifying.
As a dear friend has since confided, I had ‘sunk lower than a snake’s belly’. I was out-of-control, in the sense that I was no longer in control of my thinking, or feelings. So, how had I got there?
Well, I had been gradually getting ill. The clues were there for some time: difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, loss of concentration, loss of memory, feeling drained, being constantly anxious, and general apathy. My mind was turning in on itself, and I wasn’t really thinking, let alone thinking rationally. Everything was just passing me by. I was just existing rather than living, and trying to get through one day to the next, and to the weekend, when I could possibly just shut myself away for two days.
I wouldn’t answer the door, my phone, my emails, or want to be seen by neighbours, or friends, in case I’d have to have a conversation, and might have to discuss how I truly felt. Once I’d struggle out of bed each morning for work – and it was a real struggle – I was counting down to getting home, closing the front door, and going back to bed. Bedtime occasionally provided a temporary escape from the thoughts I would be recycling in my head for the short time I’d fall asleep through sheer exhaustion. Some nights, tortured by endlessly recycled thoughts, I wouldn’t sleep at all.
I was trying to disguise this from my loved ones, but who was I trying to fool? Every day I would lie and say that everything was fine, and that I was worn out by work, or hadn’t shrugged off a nasty flu virus. Instinctively the misty eyes that would look back at me knew that it wasn’t true, but desperately hoped that it was. After-all if you don’t have hope what’s left?
I was living on borrowed time as I knew that the endless churning of concerns over and over, and round and round in my head never produced a resolution, but were slowly consuming me from the inside out. They were eating me up, hollowing me out and breaking me down. Even when I wasn’t consciously aware of them, they were consuming me subconsciously. No one was aware of how truly awful I was feeling, or my increasing sense of desperation, as I considered exit strategies – I’m ashamed to say rope, blades, pills were my ‘top three’.
It takes someone extraordinary to convey how they really feel in such circumstances. I tried but failed to do so. The balloon went up when I was discovered in the midst of an attempt to end it. Discovered, I broke down, and was forced to seek help. It took years to fully ‘recover’. Ten years (plus) on, I still regard myself in recovery and do everything possible to stay well. Now it’s potentially in serious jeopardy.
I’ve discovered that my sensitivity to noise has heightened since my last breakdown, and that I find extraneous noise, which I can’t control, at times, very disturbing. I’m struggling with this and have bared my soul on public platforms, including the House of Commons, and BBC radio.
I know (and accept) that not everyone feels, or are affected the same. But the existing statutory (noise) nuisance framework has at least one significant omission, and consequently although one may/could be severely affected by aircraft noise, one has no remedy, or possibility of relief.
In the case of individuals who have wrestled with severe mental illness and are ‘recovering’ – and they’re out there – this is blatantly wrong. In fact, it’s more than wrong. It is an area I have campaigned on, resonating with many decent people, who recognise the injustice and yawning policy gap. It is, though, an area where officialdom continues to fail.
I want to continue my recovery, to have hope, and to feel safe in my home. However, I am genuinely no longer sure that anyone really cares about this issue among the Mental/ Public Health fraternity or political parties, or is prepared to do anything transformative about it (forget gimmicks). Although I have generated a range of practical ideas and viable approaches for officials of all hues to consider, such as special measures for noise ‘hot spots’, they have all fallen on stony ground, and disappeared into the existing vacuum.
I don’t want to crumble, because ……. well, I can’t bear to write it. Let’s therefore put it another way – I don’t want to be remembered for an epitaph which reads “Well, at least he tried” – try telling that to those left behind.