The Place I Chose To Die

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The other day we were driving back from my Immunology appointment at our local hospital , the same hospital where I was incarcerated for nine long weeks in The Dungeon. Anyway, we passed this little motel, the kind of establishment that is a mix between being super twee and super dodgy, and suddenly this chill spread through my body. I remembered the motel. But I couldn’t think of why.

I started to rack my brain for information. I was sure I had never stayed there. I mean, why would I want to stay in a slightly dodgy motel situated on a major road, in a slightly dodgy area of town, in my own city? I didn’t know anyone who had stayed there. I couldn’t recall ever visiting it for whatever reason. Then suddenly I broke through the ECT induced memory loss and the reason hit me like a tonne of bricks.

Of course. I thought. That was the place I chose to die.

You see, when I was admitted to the Dungeon I was suicidal. These feelings got worse and worse as time progressed. None of my meds were being absorbed due to the pesky autoimmune disease. Things were going rapidly downhill. I heard voices which told me to kill myself. I began to see people who followed me around and continually tried to convince me that my loved ones would be better off without me. That I was a burden. That if I REALLY wanted to help people I should get rid of the problem. Me.

Of course, when I expressed this to the medical staff they told me that the voices were wrong. But those voices…”The People” just used to ask me “Who ya gonna believe, Rachael? The doctor who has known you for five minutes? Or us, who have been with you for most of your life, know your intricacies and your family? We WANT to help you. Let us help you” These “people” were twisted but somehow they always made sense. And so they kind of grabbed hold of me.

So I began to make a plan. I managed to hack into the hospital university’s wi-fi through my own university. I searched the net and chose a place, this particular motel, to die. I decided how to do it. I had cash, a credit card, and a bus card. I was a voluntary patient on an open ward. I knew I could walk out at any moment and just never return.

Somehow, and I don’t recall how, around this time the doctors twigged that I was losing grip. I was placed on one-to-one supervision, and much to my frustration at the time, my plan was foiled. Thank god.

I find it very awkward to write about this. I feel an intense shame that I even THOUGHT about killing myself – much less making an elaborate plan. I feel like someone reading this is going to shout out “See! Unfit mother! Disgrace to society!” This is such a difficult topic to talk about.

Suicide is such a stigmatised issue. I mean, God, it’s a HORRIBLE issue. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s real. And it should be talked about.

The leading cause of death in Australians aged 15 to 44 is suicide. And, you know, that’s just looking at “successful” suicides (and wow, I hate that term). For every death around 30 people attempt to end their lives. This is MASSIVE issue. (see Lifeline for more horrifying statistics https://www.lifeline.org.au/About-Lifeline/Media-Centre/Suicide-Statistics-in-Australia/Suicide-Statistics)

But we don’t like to talk about it, because those who kill themselves, or try to kill themselves are selfish. They are weak willed. People who attempt suicide are looking for attention. They are all sorts of negative things that  definitely do not encourage those struggling with suicidality to seek help.

Let me just make something clear. When I was meticulously plotting my own death in hospital I was not looking for attention. Quite frankly, that was the last thing I wanted. Also logic doesn’t come into it when you are suicidal. Although it is true that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”, in the depths of despair you don’t think that way. All of your thoughts become warped. I truly believed it was my best option, and would be kindest to those I loved. Obviously, I was also, and this is really important, very very sick.

People who are well generally do not want to kill themselves. There is this thing called human survival instinct. Against the odds, humans want to survive. That’s why people fight and fight through terrible adversity and illness. We WANT to live.

People who decide that the best option for them is suicide are generally very unwell and urgently need help. I truly believe that if the issue wasn’t so stigmatised, people may feel more able to ask for help when they need it, and perhaps unnecessary deaths could be prevented.

While I was in hospital I was afraid to tell the staff the extent of my suicidality. I was scared to tell them because the last time I felt suicidal I presented to the emergency department and was seen by a bored psychiatrist who said to me “You have a roof over your head. You have a husband. You have a baby. Why would you want to kill yourself?”

Yeah that made me feel great.

This type of experience, which is unfortunately, so very common for people with suicidal thoughts, just encourages stigma, and perpetuates the cycle. Different doctor, different place, but I was still scared of talking about how I felt.

I was really lucky though. I got the help I needed. I had a hospital keep me safe. Many other people aren’t this lucky. There are so many deaths out there that could be prevented.

But still, despite my feelings on stigma, I feel the shame. This is not something I will ever discuss, even with those closest to me. It feels like a dirty aspect of my life that I wish I could change, and this post feels like a confession.

I hope that one day I will be able to accept myself, and my experiences. I hope that I will learn to stop the self stigma. I hope that one day society will be able to talk about the issue that is killing so many people.

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One White Russian

Nico was a young Russian guy who seemed to live in army pants and a hoody (hood up) with a baseball cap placed over the hoody. I had never really taken much notice of him. Until now.

I was watching The X Factor in the TV room and he sat down beside me.

” Ahhh I like this show” he said in a thick accent. “I used to watch it in jail.”
I muttered a sort of non committal “mmm hmmm”. Sadly, if there is one thing I have learned from the public psychiatric system it is that your best bet for a smooth stay is to keep to yourself as much as possible. As for the whole jail thing…honestly…after being a public psychiatric patient for as long as I have, nothing really shocks you.

“so you are back then?” he asked.

Ok. Now he had my attention.

I turned to him. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well I saw you being dragged off to the locked ward. A few weeks ago. Now you are back.”

“I was being…dragged?!” Since having the ECT I had forgotten a lot and I was interested in what had actually happened.

“Well, ok, not exactly dragged. But there were a lot of nurses and they were all kind of…rushing. That kind of thing. I couldn’t believe it was happening!”

“Oh.”

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Yes. Lots thanks.” Thank you ECT.

“That’s good.” he turned back to the TV. I followed suit. “I like music. I like to sing.”

“So do I.” I replied absent mindedly.

“Can you sing something then?”

“Erm, no.” Things seemed to be heading in a unwanted direction. Now seemed a better time than ever than to introduce the fact that I was unavailable. “I am married you know.” I said flashing my ring. “to a very nice man. We have a child.”

“How much did that ring cost?”

“I’m not even going to respond to that.”

He laughed. “You just did.”

This time I really didn’t respond, but put all my concentration into the TV show.

“Are you in a single or shared room?” he asked.

“Shared.” I said instinctively, not taking my eyes off the screen. In fact I was in a single room. (When I arrived at the ward for the second time I was directed to a 4 bed room, where upon arrival I found an amputee furiously masturbating. My presence, nor the fact that my bed was next to hers and the curtain separating the two had fallen down, didn’t seem to deter her. I backed out of the room and asked the staff if there was another room available. I was temporarily given a single room.)

“That’s a pity.” He gave me a wink. “If you were in single room we could..you know…use it.”

I nearly fell off the couch. “Married.” I said firmly, holding up my ring hand. “And planning on staying that way.” I started moving to leave the room, but he beat me to it. I waited until I was sure he was outside, then ran up the hall to my (very single) room. All night I was on high alert, practically expecting a night time visitor. It was the only time I had been grateful for the nurses nighttime checks.

In reality, we avoided each other for weeks. My husband visited the ward several times. Any accidental eye contact was extremely awkward, and it became an unwritten rule that if one of us was watching TV, the other could not.

But the day of Nico’s discharge our paths were to cross again. I was in the shower, and when I turned the tap off I realized I had no towels. I swore under my breath and grabbed my dressing gown (a short, summer gown. My winter version was modeled on Chewbacca, and though it was very warm I didn’t deem it hospital appropriate, so opted to pack my summer one. Though, thinking about it, in this situation my Chewbacca gown would have been far preferable.) My room was situated directly next to the laundry so I figured a quick gowned run down the hall was my best option.

I stuck my head out the door, and seeing no one around I made a run for it. Grabbed some towels, and started walking back. Suddenly I heard a wolf whistle, and I didn’t have to turn around to know who was behind me. As Nico passed me he tipped his baseball cap and gave me a wink.

“Nice legs!” he told me as he walked past, giving me a big grin.

Once I got back in my room I looked down at my bare legs and snorted. Being in a locked ward I hadn’t shaved in at least a month. Perhaps I didnt need that Chewbacca gown after all!

That was the last I saw of him.

Cheeky bugger.

The Twinless Occupational Therapist

The major advantage for hospitalization on an open ward, was the increased availability of activities. Days are long in a psychiatric ward with nothing to do, and there are only so many times you can play UNO.

In The Dungeon there was Hydrotherapy classes and a lonely art room. In the State Psychiatric Facility there was occupational therapy. After weeks in a locked ward I was excited to Finally be able to participate. At 10:00 am exactly, I walked to the occupational therapy area, and realizing I had gone to school with the therapist did a little about turn and headed back to my room. Talk about a close slave!

From memory the therapists name was John, he had a twin brother and played electric guitar. We took Art together and our paths tended to overlap fairly frequently due to a mutual love of music.

The next morning I forgot about Occupational Therapy, and was lounging in the TV room reading a paper. Suddenly the therapist appeared.

“Hi! I’m John, the Occupational Therapist. Do you want to make a mosaic table with me? No one else seems to be interested.”

I could have died. One of the top situations you do not want to meet someone from your past; in a psychiatric hosptial…as a patient (only topped by at the the gynaecologists). But he looked straight at me and showed no sign of recognition. I quickly assessed that:
1) he wasn’t who I thought he was
2) he didn’t remember me, (most likely due to my disheveled appearance), or,
3) he had astounding professionalism and was pretending not to know me. There was probably something in the staff rules pertaining to this.

I considered any of these assessments better than the alternative, and not wanting to be rude I stood up and followed him to the Ocupational therapy area where multicolored tiles, grout and a picture of a sun were waiting. We went about sorting the tile pieces in silence until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Do you have a twin?” I blurted out.

“No, not that I recall.” the John replied, looking vaguely amused. (assessment 1).

“That’s weird. I thought I saw your twin yesterday. But,” I paused, “maybe it was you…” I trailed off, realizing I was making a fool out myself. “Also…” I started, feeling honesty was the best policy, “you look ridiculously like someone I went to school with. And you have the same name. Except I’m sure he had a twin. But maybe he didn’t.”

“Did your twin die?” Katherine, a mild mannered senior enquired, walking up to the table. “I had a twin that died once. But it was before I was born.”

“Well…I definately don’t have a twin…I do have a sister, but she is younger.” John said, clearly used to this sort of debacle, Katherine walked off, and I cleared my throat awkwardly.

“Well, it’s good we have sorted that little mystery out!” I concluded. “I don’t have a twin either. If it helps.”

God, this was turning into a disaster.

But John, ever professional, smoothly moved on; setting up the mosaic pieces and asking me some basic questions about myself, and I was relieved to find out that we had gone to school together, making me partially rather than completely mad (Assessment 2). And, I began to realize, it was pleasant talking to someone who didn’t greet you with “Welcome to my space ship!”, or “its time to take your Lithium.”

I attempted to regain my reputation by talking about my successes, my family and my PhD, rather than the time I spent in a locked ward, or running away from security. John continued to project exactly no recognition of me, (assessment 3) of which I was ever grateful. I began to look forward to Occupational therapy once more and the Sun mosaic was nearly finished before I was discharged.

I could have sworn he had a twin though..!

Charlie (is making me smile)

Somewhere along my stay Luke was admitted. Luke was a middle aged, bald, enormous man with a hernia the size of his fist where his belly button should be. Luke loved nothing more than the bible, and to sing, preferably both at the same time.

When he was first admitted he seemed relatively normal…if a bit loud. He caught me during one of my midnight insomniac drugged up strolls around the ward. We chatted. He seemed nice. How was I to know what was to come?!

What was to come was Luke became obsessed with me. Oh how I regretted my niceties, when at every sighting he called my name. Where he referred to me as “Sweetie”, and “Princess”, and “Beautiful” where he constantly asked questions like “can I touch what I can’t afford?”

Spew.

I may be sounding harsh but, really, it wasn’t you this morning who woke to the sound of “Rachael!!!” through your hospital door. I dived under the covers and he must have looked in, because I heard him then say to his nurse “she is asleep”. The nurse, clearly trying to distract him from my door asked if he was wanted to play some of his songs. His response…

“I don’t want to wake the sleeping beauty Rachael up.”

Of course, Luke is manic. He has flown higher and higher to the point where he has irritated everyone on the ward, staff included, and may be transferred to a more secure facility. I tried to stay away from him, a little cat and mouse game that begun. I tried not to make eye contact, and maintain only minimalist conversation. This was not only to preserve my sanity, but for his sake as well. With mania come regrets.

I knew I was in too deep last night when I walked to my room, he bid me farewell, then started walking towards me. Suddenly I felt a little scared. I was all on my own on this side of the ward.

“what is it Luke?!” I asked in an irritated tone.
He stepped towards me and very seriously asked if he could kiss my hand. Unfortunately I was taken by surprise and all I could manage was ” errrr I guess…”. So he took my hand and kissed it, promising me he would only do it once so he would, and I quote, “make the most of it”.

Immediately afterwards I contacted my husband with strangled “help!”. He was of little use as he found the whole situation remarkably comical, referring to Luke as my “lover boy” through sniggers.

Hubster was to chortle some more the next morning when Luke accosted me at the medication station to ask whether he could put some flowers in my room. One place I did NOT want Luke was my room, so I firmly told him no. This had gone far enough.

He disappeared then came back again, giving me something, and racing off before I could say no. He called behind him “it was the prettiest one…for you”. I looked down into my lap and saw….

A monster figurine. He gave me a monster. It is green, in a “Roooaar” pose with its arms outstretched, and a giant mouth with red lips stretched to reveal 20 or so teeth. It is one of the ugliest things I had ever seen.

I took it back to my room and sat it on my table. Then I started to laugh. Then I started to roar with laughter. A nurse asked if I was ok.

I have named the figurine “Charlie” and have decided to keep it. He will sit on my desk and remind me of the crazy shit that happens when I go crazy. It will be an omen, and represent the darkness, and thus my desire to be well. It will represent what I have been through.

But it will also remind that no matter how unwell I am, even when I am hooked up to machines and can only wear track suits. Even when my hair is dirty and I can’t remember the last time I wore makeup. And even at my very worst….there will still be a middle aged, manic, balding guy out there who thinks I am the bees knees.

Oh, and my husband too. 😉

As Real as it Gets

A few weeks ago I couldn’t sleep. I paced around the ward, them eventually went upstairs, which we are not really allowed to do at night, but I couldn’t face seeing the same dull scenery.

Upstairs I stared longingly at the exit, then reluctantly plonked myself down on a couch.

“Bad night?” I suddenly heard from beside me. I looked around and there was a guy there. Rough as guts type of guy, with a black eye, stitches in his eyebrow but a surprisingly kind face.

“I guess” I said, not really in the mood for conversation.

But somehow we started to talk. His story is not mine to tell, but I felt for him. It was the first time I had talked to anyone beyond pleasantries, and I was surprised at how much I revealed.

A hassled nurse eventually appeared. “So here are the two missing patients,” he grumbled.

After the nurse left, I remarked “don’t you think he looked like Brian May?”

“I don’t know…I think he kind of looked like Jesus.”

We burst out laughing.

We decided it was time to placate the nurses and head to bed, when suddenly I had a horrible thought.

“You are real aren’t you?” I asked, panicked.
“Real?! Are you serious?!” he asked, half amused.
“I’m in a psychiatric hospital and I have psychosis. I just wanted to make sure I haven’t been talking to myself for the last hour”

He smiled kindly, then put his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m as real as it gets.”

I never saw him again.

I’m the one

Being in a psychiatric ward, you do often wonder who is the ‘craziest’ of us all.

Is it the guy who laughs manically for no reason?

The girl who does ballet down the hall?

The young man who wrestles with a broom?

Yesterday I became so angry. I was in pain, and the gastro team had yet to come and physically see me, despite several prompts from my psych team. I could barely sit up because of the pain, had not left my bed all day, and the only thing I was offered for pain relief was panadeine.

A rage fueled me and I marched ungainly to the nurses station, a catheter strapped precariously to my leg as – the icing on the cake really – my bladder had decided to stopped working the night before.

I screamed at the nurses. I told them I needed to see the doctor. Fifteen or so people stopped what they were doing and stared at me, eyes like saucers. As I yelled I could I could feel myself getting more and more out of control. I saw myself from above and suddenly I realized..

I’m the one. I’m the craziest. At least in this particular moment.

My doctor got on the phone. And within the hour the gastro team arrived.

What a pity acting crazy is sometimes the only way to get results.

The Friend Zone

People often ask me if I have made friends in here. I always give the same response:

I am here to get better, not to make friends.

That’s not to say I am not polite to people, that I don’t pass the time of day. I have no prejudice against anyone here…after all I am just as much an “inmate” as them.

But I know myself. I worry, I take on other peoples baggage. And quite frankly I have enough of my own baggage to deal with. It’s not snobbery, it’s survival. Swapping phone numbers, day trips out together….no. It is not what I need.

Despite my best efforts to remain aloof, a few of the the older women have taken it upon themselves to take me under their wing. Like mother hens they have held me as I cried, passed me tissues, checked in on me and expected nothing in return.

One night as I was trying to sleep I heard some quiet sobbing coming from my mother hens cubicle. I lay there awkwardly not knowing what to do. Then I got up, and walked into her cubicle. Wordlessly, I lay down next to her and held her as she cried.

After a while she calmed down and she turned to me. “thank you…no one has held me like that in a long time.”

“it will be ok” I told her.

“yes it will ” she said.

She was discharged the next day and I never saw her again. I hope she is doing well.

Sick of being sick

Today isn’t a great day. My steroid dose was cut two days ago…the one thing we were all looking to to improve my psychiatric symptoms….and some of my gastro symptoms are back. I am praying it is coincidence, something I ate, anxiety, or just about ANYTHING that means I have to go back to the higher dose.

I am sick of being sick. Quite honestly, I have never felt this unwell in my life. When its not pain it’s hallucinations, when it’s not gastro symptoms it’s depression. Then there are the side effects of the drugs themselves…dry mouth, tachycardia, insomnia, restlessness, everything tasting bad, immuno suppression, fainting….the list goes on. I just want to feel well again. Mentally and physically.

One of the annoying things is that I have very poor concentration. The books I have, the tv, crosswords and activities on the ward are things I can only concentrate on for 10 minutes or so. I am so weak and lightheaded from the combination of the oesionophilia and my meds, that merely walking to an activity is too much for me. I feel pathetic. But this, combined with insomnia makes for some very long days, and too much time to think.

I know it could be worse, but today I’m struggling, and today I don’t feel strong. But tomorrow is a new day and I hope the world seems brighter.

Doctor, Doctor, give me the news….!

Well to say last night was a bad night would be an understatement. Psychosis was in full swing, and to make matters worse I was profoundly agitated.

I wasn’t quite climbing the walls, but I was pacing the ward counting, which is nearly as bad. I got into a minor dispute with Jenni (you can call me fat, but no body says my baby boy isn’t cute) which resulted in a room change for her.

I felt as if i was going to explode from the inside out.

Around midnight the on call psychiatrist came to assess me. He was a cheery Indian fellow who I liked immediately. I told him my life story and he made more sense of my hallucinations in 15 minutes than anyone ever had before.

Then he started talking meds. “I had a look at your ECG” he told me. “you have tachycardia”. This I was well aware of. He then gave me a brief anatomy and physiology lesson to which I nodded.

“so basically the seroquel is causing the tachycardia and heart palpitations, and therefore feeding my agitation.” I said.

“correct. You are a very intelligent girl to understand all that I told you.”

I laughed. “I have studied a lot. Too much.”

“what do you study?” he asked.

“I am doing a PhD in psychology…mental illness and stigma.” Oh the irony…

The doctor laughed. “me too! I’m just starting out, I’m hoping to devise a new stigma scale.” (at this point my mind boggled. Double barreled doctor. Would he introduce himself as Doctor Doctor M.D. P.H.D? Or would he go all sophisticated and go by Doctor Professor?)

And so we talked. The absurdity of discussing academics in a psychiatric ward as a patient to my treating physician. Bizarre!

Finally the nurse came back with my med chart and a new anti psychotic to try. Doctor/patient roles were quickly resumed and collegial roles abandoned.

But as he left he gave my shoulder a squeeze. “you will be ok Rachael”

And I will.

Four Weeks and Nothing to Show

Sometimes I feel as though I am on a crazy roller coaster, where I just can’t catch a break. I know it could be worse, but it could be better as well.

I am now entering my fourth week of hospitalization. The only difference is that for the most part my diarrhea has stopped, and for the most part my psychiatric symptoms are worse.

Yep. Worse.

I had suicidal ideation when I was admitted. I now have voices telling me to kill myself. I was depressed when I was admitted. I now feel very little at all. I had psychosis when I was admitted. I now have trouble telling reality.

Doubtlessly, my psych symptoms are worse because of the steroids I have to take for my gut. I have no option. There is no luxury of medication choice. It is the steroids or nothing. The effect they have on me psychiatrically extends my hospital stay. While I am in hospital I can’t access the nutritional changes I need for my gut to heal (steroids will tame the inflammation but not fix the problem)…THIS is an issue I will address in another post. So basically I am forced to ‘poison’ my gut with food that irritates it…the gastro team thus unlikely to reduce the steroid dose..my psychiatric symptoms remain extreme…and I cant go home.

I miss my little boy and my husband.

Fuck it all.