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.
I was put on a waiting list for psychotherapy, but waiting lists are long even for bridge jumpers. It would be two and a half years from my suicide attempt before I started therapy on the NHS. It became clear to me that building on my science of recovery was going to be down to me so I started to research depression to understand this cruel illness, to understand my own triggers and my own toxic mix of circumstances that had led me there. This helped enormously, not just in my initial recovery but still today, in my efforts to stay well and thrive. I’m all too aware that my story could have had a very different ending.