I wonder how far back I can take this. Probably makes sense to start from the beginning.
With hindsight, I had my first psychotic episode aged about 14. It lasted all of 4 hours and happened whilst I was on a night out with friends at a gig. At that point I’d never heard of psychosis before, and wasn’t to understand it right up until about three years ago. I don’t know what I thought had happened at the time; I just knew it wasn’t right. It was mainly a set of hallucinations and overwhelming paranoia. I distinctly remember seeing the shadowy face of Kurt Cobain on the whitewashed stone wall, and then later I ended up hiding behind a vending machine for fear ‘they might get me’.
Perhaps things now would be different if I’d just thought to talk to a responsible adult about what had happened. As it was, I was already suffering a severe depression and had been self-harming (and hiding it from parents and teachers) for a little over a year. I think the fear of somehow getting into trouble for it was overpowering and so I kept my mouth firmly shut.
Jumping back a little and we end up around the time of my first suicide attempt. I would have been 13. I had been depressed for a while and was mildly self-harming as a coping mechanism. On that particular night my mum and brother were out the house. I waited for the sounds of her car to fade down the road and then raided the medicines cupboard. I vividly remember sitting at the kitchen table with packets upon packets of pills and a pen and paper. There was some notion in my mind that I needed to write a farewell note to my family and friends, so as I took pills I started writing. I don’t recall what I wrote but I do remember crying hopelessly as I did it. After that I text my best friend and went to bed.
A few hours later I was woken by my mum shaking me; she was home early because the police had called her. My friend had called them and they tracked down my address from my phone number. The next thing I knew there were paramedics in my room. They checked me over and declared me safe. The explanation given was that I’d not taken anything lethal, just enough to make me drowsy.
The thing about attempting suicide so young is that you get labelled. You did it as a cry for help – of course it was a cry for help because you didn’t actually complete the deed! What no one around me at that time realised was that I had gone to bed that night planning to not wake up again. The intent was serious, but the execution was lacking.
Of course, there was the inevitable trip to see the doctor and the referral to a psychiatrist. The first session with the psychiatrist began with him informing me that if at any point he thought I was in danger of hurting myself, then he would be obliged to inform my Mum. From there on in I clammed up. At the point at which I needed the most help, I felt I couldn’t accept it because I was so afraid of letting my mum down and after a few sessions he discharged me.
From that point on I was facing the battle alone. My self-harm got worse and I sunk deep into the pit of depression. Friends at school were supportive, but what is a 13 or 14 year old meant to do to help? In the end, a friend became so concerned with the extent of my self-harm that she told our teacher what was happening. I was taken to the school nurse and bandaged up, and my mum was called. I’m a little hazy on recalling the events after this; I do not remember going to see a doctor about it, but I’m fairly sure I would have.
After I turned 17 and left college I stopped the self-harm for a few years. I was happy again, for the first time in what felt like forever. I enjoyed working and earning money, and gaining my independence. There were bad days, but nothing like the ones that had gone before. For a while, everything was normal.