Here is the full transcript of Gill Hayes’ TEDx Talk on Depression, Suicide and the Power of Hope at TEDxExeter conference.
The TEDx team warned me that when I was announced as a speaker, some of you would google me. If that was you, you’ll have discovered I keep a very low profile, so by way of introduction, I asked a few friends to offer a few words as to the kind of person I am. “Jill is the kind of person who lives life to the full, who believes anything’s possible, who laughs from the belly.” No one said, “the kind that suffer from depression,” no one said, “the kind to attempt suicide,” and yet, in the early hours of March 13, 2013, I got out of bed, left my sleeping family, drove to a nearby bridge and jumped. I don’t remember the fall or the impact; I remember being found, I remember a neck brace being fitted and been put into the ambulance.
As I was being taken to a hospital, two policemen would knock at my door and break the news to my husband. From there, the news would spread causing shock and disbelief. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t in great physical shape; many of the bones on the right side of my body were broken: my lung had collapsed, my pelvis shattered; neither was I in great mental shape. Thinking I’d already hit rock bottom, I now contemplated a life as a social pariah confined to a wheelchair with limited access to my kids.
So how on earth had I reached this point? It’s difficult to say when my story begins – roots into depression are complex – but let’s start with the loss of my father. His death had prompted a major reevaluation of life. It was time to make some big changes, so together with my family, we decided to up stakes and move to Devon.
We didn’t know a soul here, but we believed we’d find a better quality of life; we’d live the dream. There were a few setbacks in our new life, but nothing we thought we couldn’t handle. However, a year into our time here in Exeter, I realized that things weren’t quite right. I started waking early; things I previously enjoyed, I didn’t want to do; I was becoming withdrawn, social occasions were a real effort, my concentration levels were flagging, my thinking was becoming muddled, making simple decisions became really difficult. What was going on? A little time on the Internet suggested I was suffering from depression.
Depression? Me? How embarrassing. What did I have to be depressed about? I thought about confiding in friends, but they had real problems: a seriously-ill child, a dying friend, financial problems; I’d come to Devon to live the dream – whining to them that I was feeling a bit depressed? “Really? Pull yourself together.” I thought about going to see my GP, but I’d met a doctor at my practice socially; I didn’t want her finding out my shameful secret so I contacted the local depression service. They suggested a course of cognitive behavioral therapy, and as time progressed, my depression lifted. I could laugh and enjoy things, I could concentrate and engage with people.
It was such an enormous relief. I decided to make up for time; it was time to come back and suck the juice out of life again, I was never going back to that dark place. With gusto I threw myself into every aspect of my life. Few months later, I remember feeling a little under the weather. I just thought I was coming down with something but no, the depression returned.
This time, the descent was much more rapid, and it hit me much, much harder. I couldn’t do the simplest of things: a trip to the supermarket was overwhelming. I stopped taking my post, my emails, I had no appetite. I tried to keep up appearances, but it was hard work so I started to avoid people. I just seemed to shut down.
My concerned husband made me see a doctor. I was given a questionnaire to gauge the severity of my depression. My answers confirmed that it was indeed severe, but I lied on the last two questions, the ones about suicide. How could I confess to feeling suicidal? What if they take away my children? The doctor prescribed antidepressants; said they might make me feel worse before I felt better. Worse? Worse than this? I wasn’t taking them.
And taking them will be proof of my failure to sort myself out. I noticed the way I was behaving was starting to impact on my children; unable to focus or function properly I couldn’t give them the usual levels of attentional support. My mind corroded by depression, I started to believe that this thing that was destroying me would take my family down too. I would not let that happen.
Each morning, I’d wake at 1 am, I’d lie there for hours telling myself how pathetic I was, what a coward I was for still being here, a burden to my family; I would be disgusted with myself by sunrise, for still existing. This had to stop. Of course I knew my family would be upset, but through this depressive lens, I believed that they’d be better off without me. My husband is an amazing father, he would do an excellent job in raising our children.
We had a holiday planned, they’d have time to bury me, grieve, take a holiday to get over it and come back to start a better life without me. Surely proof the depression does terrible things to your mind. The day before my suicide attempt, after dropping the kids at school, I pulled over on the side of the road, I just sat in the car feeling numb. I remember watching the buses. What if I just stepped out in front of one? But that wouldn’t be fair on the driver.
And what if it didn’t work? I just maimed myself that wouldn’t help anyone. I then drove to a bridge where I sat in the car for hours. At one point I wrote a suicide note and then ripped it up in shame. As I drove off, I remember the diary in my bag that revealed my struggle with these awful thoughts; that would be too painful for someone to read after I’d gone. I stopped the car and destroyed it.
I picked my daughter up from school and took her to a swimming lesson. She just moved class so I was surprised to see familiar faces I knew. I look dreadful, pale, greasy-haired, exhausted, I was far from the bubbly, chatty person they knew, but I was beyond faking it. That night, I went to bed, and as usual, wake at 1:00 am, “This time no backing out. You have to do this! Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t kiss them goodbye!” So that’s how I came to be lying on the road that cold March morning – a physical, mental, emotional wreck.
As I lay there in my hospital bed fearing the worst, something very beautiful happened: a big tidal wave of love and kindness from friends, family, and community arrived to carry me through this dark chapter. This was shown in all sorts of ways, but what stood out were the many compassionate messages from people telling me of their own struggles with mental health. These were people I thought I knew, sharing sides I never knew existed.
I had no idea the scale of this problem in our society. In my mountain of hospital post I received a gift, from George, a schoolfriend of my son. This beautiful, hand-knitted bookmark had a single word stitched onto it; that word was ‘hope’. This 10-year-old boy had summed up in one word what I so badly needed at that time. Hope is in short supply when you’re depressed; severe depression is a place of complete, total, and utter despair.
I needed to understand. I’ve been extremely ill, and I needed hope that I could and would recover. My physical recovery was long and painful; had a clear structure to it. There were milestones along the way showing encouraging signs of progress. My route back from depression would be less clear. With time, the medication seemed to kick in, my emotions returned, I was able to cry, and what felt like a very long time, I started to re-engage, to function properly. I just felt like my normal self.