It’s my birthday today. I’m one year old.
I’m not doing anything special. My Facebook page isn’t littered with present and martini-glass emojis. Nobody has sung at me. I wasn’t woken up with gifts, or breakfast in bed. I doubt there’ll be a cake, unless the cafe at work decides it needs to use up all the eggs before the weekend. I’m going to work, and I’m continuing on with my day. But I am celebrating. I am celebrating harder than I celebrated my 21st birthday.
A year ago today, I tried to end my life. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the date actually. How could you forget it? The date that you stood there in your room, pretended to everyone you knew you were going to work, as normal, and decided that today is the day I have decided it should all end. There was nothing special about that date either – it was just the day that I woke up and realised that I couldn’t physically go on anymore. I told work I just wasn’t coming in. I didn’t give a reason. In my mind I didn’t need to, because I wasn’t going to get in trouble anymore. I wasn’t going to be hated and shouted at anymore. I didn’t have to put up with the nightmares and the flashbacks anymore.
I’m not going to tell you what I did, because it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. What matters are the steps I took after. I’ve never told anyone what happened really, or how I ended up in Manchester Royal Infirmary that day, so on my birthday, just as a parent will talk about your conception and subsequent bloody birth at any big birthday celebration, I’ll tell you about how I came to conceive my new life, and become reborn.
At some stage during my actions in ending my life that day, I became frightened. I actually became frightened. There was a twinge of doubt and that doubt was what I held on to. I was scared for who would find me, and when they would find me and began to feel so much overwhelming guilt. I called my doctors surgery to try and make an appointment. I actually called the doctors surgery. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know what else to do. My head was fuzzy, I was in dire need of instant support and yet I spent 12 minutes on hold waiting to speak to a receptionist to book an appointment. Then I started to feel extremely drowsy. I couldn’t stand up properly and I was so warm all over, yet I needed to be wrapped up. I was bleeding and crying. I felt like a barrel full of holes. I wasn’t ready to be empty. I called NHS 111 and spoke to a lady who I remember was Scottish. I don’t remember what I said, but at some stage the lovely Scottish lady on the phone suddenly became stern and told me she was overriding my consent and my pleas not to want to make a fuss and sending an ambulance over to my flat straight away.
I was fighting to stay awake and conscious. I wrapped myself in my duvet. I put on a hat. I have no idea why I chose to put on a hat, but I didn’t have the energy to change out of my pyjamas so in my dizzy mind I thought a fluffy hat would suffice. I sat in my hat and I just waited, willing my eyes to stay open. The ambulance crew arrived and did something I never expected. They climbed under my duvet with me and told me I was safe now. They brought some bandages with them and the blood pressure kit and a notebook and just stayed with me. It’s difficult to remember what they did. Or how long they were there before they took me downstairs to the waiting ambulance, but I do remember I was so tired, and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so guilty for having them come all the way out to see me but so relieved that they were there and taking me with them.
To keep me awake in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, one of the ambulance crew said he wanted to tell me a story. He told me that he’d been in my position once before. He did exactly the same thing, had exactly the same thoughts but was so relieved now that he managed to fight through and continue to live. He told me that his 9 year old daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. He explained the pain he experienced after her death was so overwhelming, he didn’t want to feel anymore. Not just the pain, he didn’t want to feel anything. He felt that he didn’t deserve to feel, when she couldn’t anymore. He was so distraught by grief he tried to end his life. He didn’t succeed. He decided then, at his lowest point, that he owed it to his daughter to keep fighting and to continue living. He reached out for help, he rekindled his relationship with his wife which had been so severely strained after the death of his daughter and a year later she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I suppose she’ll be 9 years old now. And he quit his old job, and joined the ambulance service, so he could help pull others back from the brink and give them their hope back.
We’d arrived at the hospital long before he finished his story, but the other driver didn’t want to interrupt. I can’t say how long I sat and cried for, but I know all I could say was the word sorry. Over and over again. And I was so sorry. I was so sorry for his loss, and so sorry his grief drove him to this point. I was so sorry he had to look after me. I was sorry for my own dad, who may have had to bury his daughter too, had this turned out differently. At some point, he wrapped me in a blanket and brought me a wheelchair. I was registered in A&E, had some tests done, was bandaged up and taken to a room to rest and let everything take its course. The ambulance crew came in to say goodbye to me. The man who had poured his heart out to me said he wanted to leave me with something, but he couldn’t find anything appropriate, so he apologised when he handed me a sticker with a cartoon ambulance on it saying ‘I’m friends with the North West Ambulance Service!’ and a matching fluffy bookmark. The sticker is still on the back of my Kindle to this day. Yeah, I suppose I felt like an actual child when I was handed a sticker and a bookmark but actually, it meant the world that he wanted to leave me with something. He told me to stay strong and he left. I’ve always wanted to find him, and thank him for what he did that day, but I’ve never been able to.
After an hour, a junior doctor brought me a cup of tea. I found out later I wasn’t even his patient, or he wasn’t even supposed to be in the ward at the time, he was just walking through and saw me in bed crying.
I was woken up a little bit later by a lady shouting in the room next to me that she cut up her own melon rather than buying it from the shop because she didn’t like people contaminating her melon. She then asked the police officer outside her room if he had melons in his country where he was from, and the police officer replied that he was from Bolton and yes they have melons there. You know when you’re drunk and you remember random parts of the night, and you don’t know why those and not others? Yeah, that’s where that melon story comes in.
I was seen later on by the Community Mental Health Team, when they were sure I was in the right place to talk to them. I told them everything that had led up to that day. Why I felt trapped, and why I felt as though this was the only way out. Life had become so intensely tangled and hurtful that I didn’t want to be in it anymore. I’m not going to tell you why. If you know me, you know why. If you’re reading this and you don’t know, that’s okay. Again, the reasons why people make these decisions are so different. Some people say ‘Your life isn’t that bad! There are people starving in Africa! It’s so selfish of you to want to make this decision’. Never let anyone tell you your feelings are selfish. Your feelings are REAL. They are your feelings. You are living with them and nobody else. If you are led to the desperate situation where you feel that death is the only way out, no matter what has led you there, you need help and you deserve that help.
I made the promise to the Crisis Team that I was better. I made the promise there was someone at home. I made appointments to be seen the next day and I was allowed to go home. I had been there for 8 hours.
I don’t know what I expected to happen when I got home. I think many believe people make these attempts on their lives for attention. Believe me, the attention you get afterwards is not nice. I had a call off my best friend who couldn’t stop crying, blaming herself for not being there that day, which broke my already battered heart into so many more pieces. My boyfriend was at home when I got in and he was confused and shocked and unbelievably upset at what had happened, and why I hadn’t spoken to him. I never told my parents. I had to tell work though. I was forced to do the most awkward ‘Return to Work’ interview you’ll ever have to do. My work weren’t understanding about mental illness, and as such I was expected to return to work two days later, and made to feel guilty about the extra work I put on the other staff if I didn’t. They asked me questions like ‘So what was wrong that you had to take these three days off?’, them knowing full well the answer was ‘Because I tried to kill myself.’ My doctor wouldn’t give me any of my prescribed medication without my boyfriend there to keep them on my behalf. The old friends who had, in part, driven me into that dark place told me I was stupid and needed professional help, and then refused to talk to me again. Life after attempt isn’t all about hugs and messages of love and forgiveness. It’s really hard. Have you ever been in a busy supermarket and knocked over a huge display of cans or something, and everyone looks at you? And you don’t know whether to walk away and leave it all, or try and sort the mess out? You decide the latter, then you scramble around on the floor being watched by everyone whilst you try and pick everything up and put everything back where it was. And some people are laughing, some people are whispering about you, some try to help but don’t know how, some try and call the shop assistant and some just look pitifully at you? Life after attempt felt like that. You decide to stay and try to clean up the mess. You’re scrambling around, trying to pick the pieces of your life up that you decided you were just going to leave behind you whilst everyone is watching.
This year hasn’t been easy, but it’s been full of life I almost lost. I went to Amsterdam for the first time, and then Turkey. I was accepted into a new family. I made so many new friends. I’ve laughed so much. I’ve cried so much. I’ve loved a lot. I quit my old job, just as the ambulance man did, and decided I wanted to work in a place that allowed me to help others, just like him. I started working with a mental health charity, and since then, I can say I’ve genuinely saved a life too. I called an ambulance out for someone in need, just like the lady on NHS 111 did for me, and that person decided it wasn’t time yet either. If my decision to keep fighting means anything at all, it means that someone else is still fighting too.
To anyone living with these feelings right now, please know that it’s okay. That if you feel low, please call an ambulance, or go straight into A&E and ask to speak to the Crisis Team. People are there who actually care about you. Who will share their own stories and bring you tea when they don’t have to and actually look out for you. I’ve told you right here what to expect, and it’s honestly okay. But please know that there is always someone, somewhere willing to listen to you. Samaritans, NHS 111, A&E – you’re not alone at all. Please don’t think that is the only option for you. I’ve been there, and it gets so much better once you start talking.
So, on my birthday today, I can say I’ve truly lived a year. I’ve known what it’s like not to want to be here at all. I will always remember November 27th as my real birthday because I made a choice to live this life. I mean, of course I’ll still accept presents on my other birthday (24th December in case you’ve all forgotten) and I’ll never actually want anyone to throw me a party or anything. But I’m going to quietly celebrate this day each year, with each year that I heal. I am one year old today. And I’ve never felt older, stronger or prouder.