Before William died I had no experience of the mental health care in the UK. I’d had no reason to need it personally, nor had I known anyone personally suffering with their mental health. It wasn’t even taboo, because I didn’t even afford it much thought. I would often catch the news, mental health being known as the cinderella service of the NHS. Hard to access, not enough facilities or not the right facilities. This may be true in some areas or for others experiences. But, I can say that had it not been for the care and guidance of the mental health team in Cornwall, I would not be here. They have been the scaffolding that has been wrapped around me for the last 11 months, and continue to be. When I fall I know they are there. When I’m falling and I don’t know it, they catch me.
Anyone in my position will know that time is like a punishment. Nothing you can do to stop it, always ticking by, excruciatingly slow. Initially, days passed in shock, weeks passed in disbelief and months have passed without me even knowing, carried along on the tidal wave of grief, churning me round and round in the eye of the storm, discarding me just where it wants too. In the initial few months, everyone has time, everyone touched by William, and they now have a life tinged with sadness, but albeit a life that they return too, maybe after the funeral, maybe after the inquest, maybe when I returned to work. Slowly people drift away back to their own lives, no time to sit with me anymore to go over and over things like I did back then. I still need to do that, so who do I lean on, who do I turn to when people are living their lives and I am on my merry-go-round of despair and can’t get off? I turn to those who I know will always be there, with a bucket load of time. Whether it be when I have a complete meltdown in the dairy aisle of the supermarket and the crisis team need to come and rescue me or whether it be the day before my scheduled one to one appointment and I need them now. I know I can rely on them to change my appointment.
I have full capacity. I am not mentally ill. I have a problem that they cannot fix. They cannot bring William back. I could be hospitalised because of my suicidal ideation, but knowing they could not fix me, and they would only be removing me from everything that is William would increase the intensity of those feelings. So, what do they do? One thing they haven’t done is give up. But, one thing they have done is respect me and respect my decision. I am a vulnerable, high risk adult. What does that mean?
Vulnerable Adult – A vulnerable adult is described as a person aged 18 years or over, who is in receipt of or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation.
High Risk Adult – Current or recent moderate / high risk of intentional self harm
So that is what I am. Am I embarrassed or ashamed to be in this category of society? No. You see just like any other debilitating illness, mental health problems are real. They don’t go away when you take medication. You can’t ‘just get over it’. You can’t make yourself want to live. You can’t make yourself eat or sleep if your body is telling you not to. You can’t stop tortuous memories of finding your son passed away in his cot. You can’t stop hearing the call handler’s voice as she talked you through CPR. You can’t ever stop the image of your child in his coffin just pop into your head. You can’t stop that fear of knowing that tomorrow will be just as bad, after all William won’t be here then either. With these flashbacks and thoughts come physical side effects. Chronic insomnia, days with no sleep, after two, three or four days you start zoning out. In a complete daze, losing hours at a time. Sometimes you imagine things to move, sometimes you think you hear something, but you are alone. It is terrifying. Sometimes the anxiety is so bad, regardless of how much medication or exercise you do, you cannot write, because the tremors control you. Sometimes I cannot stand colour, movement, noise. Why? Because I simply cannot process it. The scores of pock marks on my skin, when in an effort to control my anxiety I pick my skin. Or bite my nails. Or pull a few hairs out. Sometimes I don’t want to talk, or involve myself in the conversation. Why? Because sometimes it is such a huge struggle to even be in another person’s company, when all you want to do is be swallowed up by the gaping pit of grief.
Mental health is not a choice. It does not discriminate. No matter your colour, your religion, or where you were born. If it wants you, it will take you.
Everyone in their life at some point will have suffered a bout of depression, most people have seen or gone through trauma like a car crash, a marriage breakdown, or the loss of a parent. But life after losing a child, is an indescribable journey of survival. A life sentence.
People move on. But I am stuck, sometimes the quicksand is deeper and the struggle to fight to get out is just that, a fight. On these days, I know that if I call the mental health team, they will come with their scaffolding, they will build it up around me as high as I need it to go. They don’t just build it and leave. They wait. They listen with compassion. They cry when I cry. They don’t try to fix me, knowing that I can’t be fixed, they guide, advise, and aid. And most importantly they do not judge, they understand. They understand that mental health is not a taboo. It is very real.
I saw one particular psychiatrist for months. We had intensive EMDR sessions, followed by psychotherapy. As a doctor he wanted to fix me, make me better, but he knew, he understood, all he could do was help to make the path I am on a little easier, so maybe when I get to the end, it wouldn’t be the end.
Not many of you know but at the end of January I spent time in a secure psychiatric unit, why? Because I had tried to take my life earlier that week, I was found in time. Had I not been found, I would not be here. Several days later I knew what that feeling felt like. The desperation to be with William, it is not a means of escape, it is not me trying to escape the pain. It is about wanting to be with my son. To sit there and actively know that what you are about to do is end your life is an extremely courageous and brave step to take. Knowing there is no returning. No going back. To be at a point, where for whatever conflict is taking place in your head, people need to exit their life, is not a cowardly way out. For some it is the only way out of a lifetime of enduring pain. For some it is a means of escape, who are we to judge, that whatever is happening in their head is tolerable or not? Because I for one moment ask you to put yourself in my shoes. If you lost one of your children, what would be your oblivion?
When I was in that psychiatric unit it was very apparent that I am not mentally ill. I have heard of schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders, split personality disorders, bipolar as I am sure most of you have, you might know someone with one of these mental health conditions. But wow, those people do not need shunning, do not need bullying, those who are very poorly require the most intensive round the clock care that can only be given in a secure unit. I sat with one man. I won’t tell you his real name, but I’ll call him John. John was 35, that is what he said anyway. He shook my hand and said hi, my name is John. I politely replied, that my name was Melissa. Within 15 minutes we had repeated that very small conversation over 30 times. Did I mind? No. John told me about his job in a shop. Told me about what clothes he sold, he told me about the people he worked with, he told me where the shop was. John had been in that unit for 5 months. John didn’t have a job. John didn’t work with anyone. I don’t even know if he was 35 and his name was John. But it didn’t matter, because for those 15 minutes he was happy. Is it his fault that he has been afflicted with a terrible mental health illness? Does he deserve it? Did he ask for it? The answer to all those questions is no. But John didn’t get a choice. Schizophrenia and psychosis picked him. I was there purely for my own safety. John was there because that is where he was living.
So I ask you, when you see me walking down the middle of the high street, my eyes bloodshot from the lack of sleep, my hair not brushed because when I left the house I was too busy kissing my son’s casket goodbye to remember to brush my hair, that I am on my way to have more scaffolding put up to help me continue the fight. Without that scaffolding I wouldn’t be here. Without the mental health team I would not be here. I can’t help the way that I feel. I can’t just change the way I feel, it’s very real and all-consuming. Knowing I can make that choice tomorrow prevents me from doing it today. It has worked so far. I have a safety net. Suicide is my safety net. I don’t need judging, I don’t need fixing, I need scaffolding. If you want to judge or fix then please don’t. If you want to scaffold, build away. I do not see it as ending my life, I see it as going to continue it somewhere else with my son, for eternity.