Anonymous’ #MadCovidDiaries, 21.06.20
TW: References to self-harm, including methods, discussed throughout.
Why has it taken walking around the hospital grounds at night to make me feel sad?
It’s just gone 11pm Tuesday night and I’m walking around the local hospital grounds. Mum’s waiting in the carpark, I’m not a patient – not yet anyway, I might be going to A&E after this. Let me explain how I ended up here.
I really don’t know where to start…since the beginning of lock-down there’s been crisis after crisis with my mental health. Every week I seem to hit a new low: a ‘but things have never been quite this bad before’, until the weeks all blur together and it no longer seems quite right to call them ‘crises’. Staying awake until 4am, collapsing sobbing on my bedroom floor, frantically cutting my limbs and chest with a razor until my family have to prise the blade from my fingers and I hit the wounds instead. This is no longer an unusual breakdown but my ‘new normal’.
Over the weekend everything feels completely numb and utterly unbearable at the same time. I utilise every coping strategy I can to keep the promise I made my care coordinator to stay alive until she speaks to me next week. It’s harder than I thought it would be. It’s as if a thick black cloud has taken over my mind and is paralysing and suffocating me so I can no longer move, breathe or think. Even getting though the next few minutes seems unbearable. Somewhere in the very distant back of my mind I feel like screaming, I want to be able to cry, but instead the overwhelming feeling is numb and nothingness. I’ve been like this a lot recently, even before lock-down, and I hate it because it’s like suffocating but also being too numb to fight your way out of it.
I almost think I prefer having flashbacks. Flashbacks are explainable, there’s usually a trigger and people tend to be sympathetic. In contrast, this feeling that’s unbearable and paralysing at the same time is terrifying because you can’t communicate it. There’s no explanation why it’s happening now, no obvious link to past trauma. You can’t justify it so you think you don’t deserve help and feel unreachable anyway. You don’t know what you’re feeling, yet you can’t bear it alone anymore. You just need a way out. (I don’t really prefer flashbacks).
Tuesday is a nightmare from the start, I have a GP appointment booked, but I know I won’t get dressed and get there. I self-harm, my family are out but stop me when they return. I keep telling myself “lie, make them believe you’re okay, then you can get on with it”. But it seems I’m too distressed to pretend, so I’m honest instead and say one way or another I intend to cause myself very serious injury by the end of the day. Mum calls the mental health team’s duty number and asks for a message to be sent to my care coordinator. I’m no longer thinking normally or thinking at all really, I’m just blank and need to hurt myself. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted self-harming so when I’m like this there’s not even a small part of me that wants to stop.
Most of the day passes with mum following me around the house making phone calls to 111 and the duty desk. There doesn’t seem to be any help available at times like this, and that’s not only since Covid-19, although it’s got worse. Phone calls with people I don’t know don’t help, the duty team won’t consider referring to the crisis team (the only people who could see me face to face) until they’ve spoken to my care coordinators, but that can’t happen until Thursday. The crisis team will say no anyway. Someone suggests A&E, but if the wounds aren’t bad enough to need treatment and it’s within working hours, they won’t see you and will send you back to the duty number. I hate that as a society we’re prepared to leave people in so much mental pain. I’m still trying to cut my wrists and getting more and more distressed at being stopped. I think if this carries on I won’t keep my promise and will just make a run for the nearest bridge. In the evening the duty worker says he needs to speak to me himself, I agree because I don’t want to be seen as difficult.
I decided years ago phone calls with duty are best approached with zero-expectation they will help, and if you don’t end up feeling 10x worse it’s a win.
So I reassure Tim* that, yes, I do take full responsibility for my own self-harm. And no, I didn’t have any expectations that he would stop me, we’re actually only speaking because he insisted on it.
“What emotion do you feel when you want to self-harm?”
“I’m sorry I don’t know.”
“What emotion do you feel once you’ve self-harmed?”
“I’m really sorry I don’t know.”
Tim concludes that I “clearly haven’t reached that stage yet” and “need to work on it in long-term therapy”. I can’t decide if I find his bluntness rude or refreshing!
He told my mum he wanted to do a ‘brief assessment’ but cuts me off before I can answer a question. After what seems a very long time he reaches the realisation that “THERE IS HOPE”, but I get the feeling it’s more for his benefit than mine. We find common ground in agreeing that my care coordinators are brilliant and doing their best in difficult times, so at least the call ends amicably.
Mum’s had enough and we’re going to A&E. I drag out getting ready as long as I can, I’m terrified of Covid and hoping something changes and I feel better enough to get through the night. When we arrive I say I’m going for a walk first. The building I used to have therapy in before the lock-down is on the same site and it’s actually quite a nice place to walk around when it’s quiet…
I make my way through the housing development at the side of the hospital, it’s deserted at this time of night, bar the occasional fox. Most houses have at least one light on and I can see TVs playing in living rooms, or kitchens left in semi-darkness, their occupants presumably already tucked up in bed. I walk quickly, sticking to the shadows, but I still notice a man laughing down the phone and couples smiling at the TV. Suddenly I feel sad. I’m sad that mental illness has made me so unwell, sad that things have got so much harder since lock-down, sad that I can’t remember or imagine a time where I could just sit and relax in the evening. I’m sad that I’m out here, cuts stinging beneath my leggings, but that this is still the ‘better option’ (compared to risking Covid in the A&E waiting room). Why have I never felt sad about being mentally unwell before?
After days of intolerable numbness, it’s a relief to feel anything. Identifying emotions is usually a painstaking process for me and even then I’ll struggle to really ‘feel’ what it is I’m experiencing. This sadness seems sort of normal and easy, it washes over me and feels right for the circumstances. But why’s it taken walking around the hospital in the middle of the night to make me feel like this?
I spent half a decade telling my story, trying to raise awareness and prevent others from suffering what I did. I stood in school halls full of teachers, in council boardrooms, at ‘Survivor Receptions’ in smart venues and once in 10 Downing Street, always pretending that what he’d done hadn’t broken me. I hid the cuts and brushed suicide plans off as ‘one offs’. Slowly I went mad, blaming myself for everything that’d happened, whilst telling myself I must be happy because I was helping. The last talk I gave at a conference – I burned myself repeatedly in order to be numb enough to write it – it was also the talk I got the best feedback on with people emailing to say they’d heard from colleagues how good it was!
I pull my two hoodies tighter around me and walk past the 136 unit where I was detained last year (4 days after that talk), and right up to the building I went/go to for therapy.
At least I’m not pretending any more.
Maybe I’m acting a bit ‘mad’ (have you ever haunted the therapy offices at night!?), the last week has definitely been one of the worst, but at least I’m no longer in denial.
When we get home I paint my nails and find a podcast to recommend to my care coordinator, maybe I’ve gone mad, but it’s the most normal I’ve felt all week.
*Name has been changed
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