Hello again 🙂 !
Please note that I wrote this post several weeks ago following a social care assessment by a social worker that had taken more than a year to come about following an urgent referral. Lots has happened, and changed, since then as more recent posts evidence, but I wanted to post this to update this part of the story and so that I can next post a more brief update on the social care front.
This is an intense post … very raw …
*** TRIGGER WARNING – this post contains mention of suicidal ideation and brief description of planned method – but with an optimistic outcome, I promise. It also contains a sweary moment.***
I’m afraid to get too excited. I’m scared to hope until it’s all been verified and approved. And yet somewhere inside me it’s bubbling away, small but unbridled, fizzy excitement.
It’s keeping me on top of a precipice, by keeping hope alive.
Since my collapse in mid February, it’s been quite the job to stay alive … too many times I’ve almost tumbled over the edge.
Having experienced significant trauma and having been abused for many years, I’ve experienced suicidal feelings on and off since my late teens – that’s almost three decades – due in part to mental illness caused by the trauma and abuse. They call that being ‘passively suicidal’, which sounds rather like there’s some relaxed, chilled vibes going on. In actual fact, feeling suicidal, regardless of whether you’ve reached the ‘actively suicidal’ stage of making and seeking to execute suicide plans, can be HORRIFIC.
Sometimes suicidal despair is less about mental illness and more a human, albeit extreme, reaction to devastating circumstances. It’s often a desire to end the most terrible pain, and to end life appears the only way to do that.
I’ve been actively suicidal around four times in all those years. I’ve made only one actual attempt to end my life (a survived attempt is known as a parasuicide) and that was a little over a decade ago. At that time I was very mentally unwell and poorly supported as I tried to come to terms with the recent realisation that the family members to whom I was devoted, hadn’t loved me at all and had sought only to harm me. Furthermore, that estrangement from them – what remained of my family – was the only way forward.
Since then I’ve become far less mentally unwell on account of a lot of psychotherapy and a lot of hard work. I’m lucky that’s worked for me, it’s not the same for everyone. Mental illness can be as individual and as complex as those who experience it. I’ve also become extremely well practised at keeping myself safe even in extreme circumstances. I know that if I can’t keep myself safe, that that’s an emergency situation. The difficulty comes when the system does not have the resources to provide appropriate support.
In July last year I set up a noose in my flat, carefully balanced I tested it to ensure that it was fit for purpose. As, during this test, I settled it around my neck, the phone rang suddenly – loud and shrill. I started and almost fell off the object on which I stood, and which ultimately I was planning to kick away … It’s not funny, it’s really not, but still I find myself laughing now. You could not make it up.
I could just have gone with it but instead I fought to right myself and hurried to the phone. My phone rarely rings. I answered to hear the voice of someone who has rarely called and never without being asked to do so. I do not believe in divine intervention but the interruption gave me sufficient pause. The ‘spark’, as I think of it, inside me that’s kept me alive through everything yelled … Do not fucking extinguish me. I am not done yet. It’s pretty difficult to ignore ol’ ‘Sparky’.
That said, in spite of the urge to fight on, I knew that I was under a great deal of pressure in very difficult circumstances. I knew that I was losing the capacity to keep fighting by myself. I knew to ask for help and I did, but it didn’t come. I had my first ever direct experience then of a mental health assessment – carried out in the large and somewhat forbidding psychiatric hospital in the city where I live. I was found to be ‘too well’ for inpatient care (much to my relief, I admit) but also for the support of the community based Intensive Home Treatment Team or ‘crisis team’. I was told that there was nothing else. The assessing doctor did suggest that I try volunteering as a means to ‘occupy myself’. The irony that I’d spent the previous four years volunteering, first for two years in that very hospital, setting up and running a not inconsiderable project by myself supporting ex and current patients, and a further two years working with a mental health charity, was not lost on me. I didn’t need to be occupied, I was more than capable of doing that for myself, sometimes to excess in a bid to keep myself going. I needed some practical and emotional support, for I had none.
In recent years, a complex set of circumstances including marriage breakdown and later divorce, two major bereavements, unexpected severe financial difficulty leaving me unable to afford to heat my home and dependent on food bank for three months and in fear of losing the roof over my head, had threatened my mental health again.
Added to that, was the fact that I was driving myself into the ground by working my socks off to get myself through all of this and onto a better future. I drove myself to breaking point. Support did materialise for six months, in the shape of my GP, a housing support officer and a friend. I made huge strides and began to thrive. Then my GP relocated, in the same month my housing support worker was withdraw overnight … the service is limited due to budget constraints.
By this time, a little over a year ago, I’d begun experiencing flashbacks to abuse of which I’d previously had no memory. I experienced intense anxiety that I hadn’t felt in years, and I also began to realise that dissociation had likely long been some part of my experience. The friend who been supportive, began to back off at this point, seemingly unwillingly to believe in flashbacks and dissociation, because they were outwith her own experience.
It seems as though having finally got out of my marriage, which wasn’t healthy, having some support in place and space to be myself, something unlocked in my mind. I already knew there were some things that I still needed to process in therapy, but I came to realise that there was more than I knew. In addition to the flashbacks and anxiety, it was as though I could suddenly feel the impact of all of the loss that I have experienced, and the attendant grief. That’s everything from the loss of my whole family, through losing my career, close friends and my marriage – all as a result of abuse/trauma, through the loss of the opportunity to have children, and right down to the permanent loss of a significant amount of my hair due to alopecia.
The pain was off the scale and unable to obtain any support despite, even if I do say so myself, valiant efforts, my mental and physical health deteriorated rapidly, until one day in February this year I could do no more and was left with the barest of function.
When I moved into my second floor flat a little over two years ago, I could run from the street below up the numerous stairs to my front door, in a one-er. I was EC-STAT-TIC the first time I managed it. I might as well have run the London Marathon … in record time … such was the size of this achievement.
I’ve never been what you’d call ‘sporty’ and, although I love to walk, I couldn’t ever imagine having any desire to run. It took among other things a broken back; the loss of my family, close friends, my career and my hair; a suicide attempt that left me in cardiac arrest, and finally a broken marriage to send me in search of my very own running machine.
My health is a bit wonky these days. I say these days. The wonkiness set in before I was 30 and I’m now approaching 50.
Aside from the umbrella of ‘Complex Trauma’ – which for me includes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, an eating disorder and compulsive skin picking known as Dermatillomania; I have several physical conditions for which there is currently no cure. The former is a direct result of my experiences of abuse and trauma.
Lots of bits hurt; bits squirt, leak and splutter. Bits fall out and bits malfunction in such a way as to leave me feeling as though I’ve gone 10 rounds in a centrifuge. Among other things, I can be incontinent, my mobility can be impaired, I experience memory loss, pain disrupts normal function and, when this lot really means business, I cease to function.
I’m great at faking wellness and pretty bad at showing sickness. It kills me to tell you – unless you’re in the same ‘club’ – how bad I’m really feeling. I’ll really try but I’ll skirt, feint and increasingly hesitate. It’ll be like pulling teeth and you’ll probably end up none the wiser.
Right now, I haven’t been able to leave my flat for almost four months and an attempt to run up those stairs would foolhardy to say the least. The treadmill is gathering dust but I still yearn to run.
I’m always going to be limited in some ways by health issues, but careful self management – to be fair, a rigorous regime of physiotherapy, graded exercise, medication, diet, meditation and more – has in the past meant I could make more of my ‘spoons‘. That’s what got me in a position to be able to run a mile several days per week. I don’t mind putting the work in, far from it, but support is necessary to sustain it.
The responsibility of care/support falls first to families, no matter their age, then friends … neighbours … the world and his dog. Social care is not readily provided by the state. Hoops must be conjured, immolated and resurrected before then being jumped through so accurately as to achieve a perfect score.
At the time of writing – popping between this and Twitter as all good writers do (!) – two tweets appeared on my timeline both, although carrying dispiriting messages, suitably illustrate this post. Cue a further frisson of excitement, stirring music, and … and … the … the …THE STARS ARE ALIGNING!
I have to shake myself back to reality. After suicidal depths and isolation, so perpetual as to rival purgatory without the promise of heaven, real hope can send one a tad giddy …
This tweet pictured below is from a psychiatrist working in an NHS Accident and Emergency Department. Whether a real or an ironic example, the message is the same. Resources are very limited, ever more strict criteria is applied to determine who may receive them. People in need can and do slip through the widening cracks in the system. The second tweet contained a link to this article in the Guardian.
This is not a great time to be vulnerable or disabled.
After completing the lengthy assessment – in two visits of around 80 minutes each – my newly allocated social worker tells me that she thinks her request for support for me – four hours per week delivered in two hourly sessions – will be approved.
To have real possibility of a support worker or personal assistant (PA) – appropriate, flexible support — dangled, like a diamond encrusted carrot, right before my very eyes, feels like the winning the lotto, the big money, life-changing bucks. But forget that, who needs it?!
I will feel like a millionaire for having won the social care lottery because it will afford me the luxury of being able to do more than survive … and instead to thrive.