There isn’t a day that goes by when the subject of Mental Health does not touch my life in one form or another. Often it is personal, my own struggle, my own anguish with a brain that often feels like it’s betraying me. Sometimes it’s through work or social media, but by far the hardest times that I have to encounter Mental Health issues is when a friend is suffering. Many the people I know have been involved at some point in the system, they are people who have been with me through some of my most vulnerable times and I have been with them. I have seen some get better, start living the lives that resembled a sense of normality (and by normal I mean without admissions, crisises, police and psychiatric intervention) and then are the others, the ones that remain trapped in a loop of stability and crashes, who I see time and time again crumbling and being taken to some place of safety. My heart breaks for them, not because of pity but because I understand the despair that it brings. It is not just about the current situation, it is the loss of something bigger, it is a feeling as though you are a failure as a person because you can’t even make yourself want to live, a basic human reaction.
I have one friend who came into my life over 6 years. It was a time when we were both extremely volatile, our respective mental health problems had brought us both to our knees and we whole heartedly believed that there was nothing left in life for us. We had given up hope, and the only thing that united us was PICU (psychiatric intensive care unit) and our sheer frustration of those that we’re trying to convince us that things would get better, that someway, somehow all would be ok. We spent months and then years, trapped in the mind and the need to die, going from one ward to another, reaching the greatness of stability and discharge before the sudden change when it all imploded and once again be dragged back to those locked spaces. At some point there was a shift in me, it was slight but the space between my admissions became longer, my actions and self became more contained. It wasn’t that my mind was better, or that I was no longer suicidal, it was just that I no longer had the heart to try anymore. I was too tired to even try to kill myself, couldn’t face the idea of ending up on the wards anymore. It was enough to keep me out till treatment. But my friend…she stayed fighting everything and everyone, locked herself in away from anyone else. She left the city and moved way up north…on the outside or on paper it appeared that she was beginning to rebuild her life, yet within weeks of moving or re-starting I received a call to say that she had been admitted to a psychiatric ward. It would be the first of so many that it is too difficult to even try to count.
Two years passed and my friend had spent more time in the hospital of her new city than she did on the outside. There were endless calls between myself and the professionals trying to help her, hours spent trying to just get a sentence out of her or make her laugh, making judgements as to whether or not I needed to be calling the police or ambulances based on the words that she said or the hints that were made. It was not easy and I was terrified that I would miss it, that I would get my cue wrong and the unthinkable would happen. At the beginning of the year I almost did.
In January there had been plenty of phone calls, she was struggling and being several hundred miles a way and stuck in treatment myself there was only so much I could do, we had struck up an agreement that I would check in with her every day until she could get some external help (which was not proving to be easy or successful). One day I called and there was something wrong, she was verbal but I could not understand the words she were saying. I knew something was wrong but she told me, promised me that she had done nothing. My instincts told me she was lying and yet my logic was telling me that she would not break the trust that existed in our friendship (I cannot tolerate lies). In the end I listened to my instincts and called for help. Hours later I got a call from a doctor, she was critical, her organs were failing, she was unconscious, not breathing independently and they were transferring her to the ICU in a different hospital. She stayed that way for 6 weeks. Eventually enough time passed for her body to begin repairing itself, she woke up, she learnt how to use her limbs again, how to talk. After that it all moved pretty quickly, high dependency wards turned into rehab wards which then became psychiatric wards. A few months later she was discharged. Nothing had changed and she wasn’t particularly impressed to be still alive. Then this summer she went to a rehab centre…and I thought that changed everything.
For the first time in our friendship she sounded hopeful, there were dreams coming out of her that she didn’t even know existed, conversations became easier and more two-sided. It was a complete turn around, for weeks she got stronger, told me how she wished she’d had done this sooner instead of resisting it. There is nothing more wonderful to see than watching somebody become alive. Finally declared strong enough to leave and to continue the fight (and it was always going to be a fight) at home she moved back to her mothers. She was still upbeat, still…dare I say happy? and then it went quiet. It was easy to assume life was just getting in the way, schedules get busy and weeks go by without you even realising. Finally frustrated with her answer phone yesterday I called her Mother. She was back in hospital.
This is the only admission that has shocked me, that I didn’t see coming. I rang the ward last night and spoke to her. She is far from ok and I don’t know if she has it in her again to make herself want to try, to figure out a way to be ok with this whole idea of living. I am frightened for her this time, her behaviour over the years has become less chaotic and less frequent but more damaging, it literally keeps coming down to life or death. One day someone will not be able to catch her and she won’t be able to save herself. I just don’t want to lose my friend, not to this, not like this.
Hopefully answers will come soon, and I must hold on that hope even though she will not accept it, not the idea of it or me holding on to it but I must.