I thought I would share some of my experiences in using the mental health crisis team ( Their full title is the crisis resolution and home treatment team). For anyone reading this who is not in the UK, this is a specialist team of mental health professionals who can be contacted through your GP, via telephone and hospital Accident and Emergency department when you have hit rock bottom and started thinking you might be better off dead. They are an immediate intervention service, although when I say immediate, if you turn up at A+E it is important to factor in an approximate wait of up to 6 hours.
I was forced to call in their expertise in Feb 2010, which is where I will pick up my story again.
It was approaching the 2nd anniversary of my Dad’s death. Before he died I was never really sure why people got upset on anniversaries. Surely you missed someone all the time and the exact date didn’t matter? Also I thought the passage of time was supposed to help? I’d managed to get through the first anniversary just fine. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever that the second one caused a total meltdown. It was starting to seem like nothing about the grieving process made sense.
I’d had my 3rd session with The Pointless Counsellor. Her complete and total pointlessness had left me shellshocked and feeling vulnerable. She had encouraged to talk about all my nasty feelings and emotions and they were all hanging around in the air like a noxious smell. For 3 months I felt as though I had been holding onto myself by a sheer gossamer thread and when I reluctantly admitted to myself that she was pointless, I felt completely overwhelmed.
My partner came home from work one night to find me in the throes of a full-scale anxiety episode that would not subside. I am reluctant to call it a panic attack, because the episodes I had usually lasted 12-18 hours. A panic attack is usually a lot shorter. I was having these episodes about 3-4 times a week and was never sure if I was on the extreme end of the anxiety spectrum, or was having about 20-25 short panic attacks in quick succession.
Either way it was pure unadulterated hell. I’ve always felt that depression was far easier to deal with. I’ve suffered with it so many times, I know what to do with myself and how to handle it. But this was the first time I’d ever had anxiety so badly that I couldn’t cope with it. It was always during the anxiety episodes that I lost all faith in my ability to get through it. It is so hard to explain how it changes you when you are in it. Of course there is fear and panic, there are racing thoughts but it’s more than that. It was a wild journey into another reality where you can’t see the road you just left, or believe that you will ever come out the other side. Writing about it when you have come out of it is hard, because it is an altered state of consciousness. The only way I can get it across is to say it was like someone had a spade and was digging around in my head, unearthing all of my deep seated fears and worries, throwing out irrational scenarios and imagined outcomes of situations, all of it which felt completely and utterly 100% real. It was nightmarish and terrifying. Like a tornado in my skull. So overwhelming in fact that the thought of killing myself to get out of it seemed perfectly reasonable.
This latest episode must have been nightmarish and terrifying to watch, as my partner didn’t question me when I asked him to take me to A+E. I felt so unsafe that some sort of survival instinct kicked in and I knew I must get myself to a place where nothing bad would happen.
When I arrived at the hospital, I thought that now I had definitely, conclusively and absolutely reached rock bottom. But after 6 hours of sitting on the hard metal chairs, I realised it was possible to feel even more suicidal than I ever could have imagined.
The 6 hours of waiting was just for starters. I’d been assessed by a triage nurse quite soon after I arrived who clearly decided things were not urgent, hence my long wait. From the main waiting room I was then called into a private room where my partner and I sat looking at the cracked green paint on the walls for another 2 hours. At least I didn’t have to sit with other people any longer looking like I was possessed by evil spirits.
At around 2 am a chaotic and crazily dressed woman burst into the room apologising madly. She said she had been dealing with a very ill lady before me. I barely heard what she said as I was so taken aback by her entrance and appearance. She had pillar box red hair with matching pixie boots. An acid yellow top with nails to match. For a second it jolted me out of my trauma.
After giving her my abridged life story and the hideous details of my immediate crisis, she concluded that I did need extra support at this time. She told me that it wouldn’t be appropriate to admit me to the psychiatric ward, but I would receive daily home visits from the crisis team. They would work with me to establish coping mechanisms and undertake a review of my medication and therapy sessions.
She also very helpfully shared with me the details of a bereavement she had been through and how badly it had affected her. She told me to be realistic about how long it might take me to work through things. I really appreciated this.
Then she told me I should try smiling at myself in the mirror every day. I didn’t appreciate this. In fact I thought, “Are you f*cking kidding me? You are on the front line of mental health intervention and you’re coming out with one of the most cliched self-help book phrases on the planet?!”
I left thinking two things :-
Knowing that help was coming had made a difference. But why did I have to be desperate before anyone really listened? I had already explained how I was to doctors 3 months earlier.
Why does nobody talk about death? Hearing about someone else’s struggle made me wonder what else is going on behind closed doors that is not being spoken about.
The latter point is a whole other blog post I guess.