15th of Septemer is RUOK Day here in Australia. It is designed to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention. You might have seen a few blog posts about it, including this one by Lori from Random Ramblings of a Stay At Home Mum.
I have never before told you the full story of my two suicide attempts. I alluded to them here in a poem, but have always been afraid of your reaction. I was afraid of being condemned. I was afraid of being judged, particularly by those who contributed to my grief.
Why write about them now? Perhaps to show the other side of the story. The story from the victim’s point of view, rather than those left behind. We commonly hear and read, whether in literature, or in the news, about the grief, the anger and the guilt of those left behind. Yes, the guilt – what could I have done? why didn’t I pay more attention?
I wanted to tell you, that, in some circumstances, there is nothing that can be done. Nothing short of rewriting that individual’s life story, of making sure that they had access to quality mental health care from a very young age.
You see, for me, both times, I was in complete shock. My mind unable to deal with the pain that was inflicted on me by others. I simply could not process what was happening, could not see beyond the here and now and I couldn’t cope with my emotions. I wanted out. I wanted relief, blissful peace, not-feeling. All rational thought was gone. In fact, my decision, both times, seemed perfectly rational. At the time.
Neither time was planned. It was a reaction to some dreadful things that were happening to me. Betrayals that I just did not see, never imagined, coming. I would have been less surprised by a visit by an alien spacecraft, than I was by what the people around me were doing and saying.
It was a peculiar state of mind. Even now, writing about it, I can place myself there. I am tense, I am numb. I have to remind myself that I am OK.
Obviously, I survived. After the first time, I woke up, calmly drove back home, buying a coffee and a muffin from a McCafe, rang my GP, packed a bag and drove to her surgery. They checked me over and kept me there, trying to find me a place in a psychiatric hospital. As they couldn’t, they sent me to a hospital in an ambulance.
I remember being perfectly calm, yet numb. I don’t remember if I cried.
Eventually, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital, where the resident psychiatrist proceeded to tell me that the problems with my marriage were all my fault, because I wasn’t concerned about the lack of a sex life.
I couldn’t stand her. I discharged myself and continued seeing my therapist and marriage counsellor for a further few weeks. Then he left.
After a few weeks, I admitted myself to another psychiatric hospital. I needed to grieve. However, as my then husband began talking (no doubt egged on by his mother and girlfriend) about taking the kids away from me, I sought legal advice and was told that the best thing I could do would be to get back home. I did. On Christmas Eve. Before we left the hospital, he told me he would come back home that night. He didn’t.
I coped the best I could for the next few months, but in May, I was presented with a whole bunch of information about him, his mother and his girlfriend (which he kept denying) which turned my world upside down, again. And, again, my mind just closed down. I had no capacity for rational thought.
This time, the hospital fixed me up, I was assessed by the Crisis Assessment Team and sent home. In the middle of the night. Full of drugs. In a taxi, which I had to call myself. The nurses there treated me like dirt. I staggered out the door of the Emergency Department, I had to sit on the floor to make the phone call. I could not walk straight, I was hallucinating. And they sent me home.
I didn’t tell anyone (except my GP and therapist) about the second time. Not for a very long time. I was too ashamed. For a few months I had the Lifeline number by my bed, in my phone. I slowly grew stronger. I made a contract with my therapist, that if I had any more suicidal thoughts, I would make every attempt to contact her, or ring Lifeline, and I would not do anything until I spoke with her. At least one person cared.
Eventually, through a support group, I accepted that I had spent 18 years of my life with a psychopath. That I had been manipulated and lied to consistently. There were lots of things that I swept under the carpet, the peeping into the bathroom when I was having a shower, or around the corner into my bedroom as I was getting dressed. The accusations of sexual harassment from his co-workers. The often inappropriate behaviour I witnessed myself.
Yet, all of that was somehow OK, as I convinced myself that this was a man who would make a good father and husband. The grooming and manipulation was so subtle, so slow, so pervasive that I no longer listened to my intuition, I was like a mannequin.
He was able to not only fool me, but many mental health professionals. The issues were always with me. He was a saint dealing with a crazy woman.
Until there was one who saw through him. And then another one. And another. As more and more people told me that I’d been the victim of family violence, of emotional abuse, I realised the truth. As I talked to other women in my situation, I could not believe the similarities in our partners’ behaviours. I stopped feeling ashamed.
I slowly woke up. I saw all of his behaviours for what they were. Every single one. I felt disgusted. I could not believe that I thought that they were OK. I could not believed I had spent 18 years with that man. I could not believe that people like him existed.
My point? Asking me then, was I OK, would not have prevented my suicide attempts. I already was in therapy, had been since I was 30. I made a decision, twice, as a result of shock. I was overwhelmed by negative, painful emotions. My therapy had not prepared me for dealing with those.
What would have helped? If I had access to quality mental health care at a very young age. At fourteen or sixteen, or 23, times when I experienced untreated depressive episodes. I also wish that some of my therapists had picked up on the emotional abuse that was going on.
So, by all means, care enough for your friends and family to ask if they’re OK. Encourage them to get help. The earlier the better….. But if you don’t, remember that it’s not your fault.