This may contain upsetting content about suicide. Please don’t read this if you think it will trigger you.
This is first of a series of blog posts I will write about my past in using mental health services. NHS mental health services have improved in some areas and got worse in other areas here. I would say the standard of the hospital facilities have improved greatly for patients but the community services have less reach. I will also at some point blog about my psychiatric experiences in Australia pre-2013.
Although I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder in Australia in 2012 I largely had severe depression day-to-day. I wasn’t diagnosed with Autism until 2019. The life threatening depression I had from 2010-15 was complete hell. I regularly thought of suicide on a daily basis. I had taken overdoses of my medication many times including Lithium that led to short stays. I think a major problem was the demands of working full time pushed me over the edge as my symptoms became more manageable when I wasn’t working. Looking back it’s clear I had an existential crisis as well. I’m well educated but saw Neoliberal Capitalism and climate change as the end of civilisation. It’s clear I didn’t have much hope.
In the Summer of 2015 I burnt out from work. A common Autistic experience. I then spiralled into a deep Depression and wanted to kill myself. I stopped turning up for work (I did web programming). I didn’t even phone in sick (very unlike me). I laid for days on the sofa just wanting to die. I wouldn’t answer my phone incase it was work. I eventually took another overdose.
I was woken up by Mother. She had came from North Essex to my rented one bed flat in Southend-on-Sea. She had a key and found me asleep. She saw all the empty pill blister packets from my medications on the coffee table. She was really angry. “Have you taken an overdose?” she kept asking. I just ignored her in a depressive anger. She then told me I need to stop this. I then completely lost it.
I immediately walked out of my home and marched to the train station with no shoes on. I was going to jump on the tracks to kill myself. I saw security at the train station so I aborted. I then marched to the seafront having decided to drown myself. By which point a couple of policeman caught up with me and began calling my name. I quickly ran into the sea. They didn’t follow me but kept calling me. An ambulance then turned up. I walked into the water neck deep staring at the Police on the shore.
I realised the Police weren’t likely to let me drown myself. The water was warm too so I wasn’t going to die of hyperthermia. I didn’t know what to do. Perhaps I didn’t want to die. At least not like this. So I left the water and got into the Ambulance. I wasn’t sectioned.
I spent 3 weeks at the Assessment Unit of Basildon Hospital. Nothing had changed I still wanted to die. I had gained a lot of weight trying many anti-depressants and anti-psychotics since 2010. I used to be a slim person but was obese. It was clear anti-depressants did nothing for me. I had even tried medication in Australia that wasn’t available in the UK. My Mum and Stepdad occasionally came to the hospital and had meetings with the Doctors.
The old Assessment Unit of Basildon Hospital in 2015 was a rough old place. I had been here for about a week in 2013 and 2014. Although you got your own room you were only allowed to go to bed at night during bedtime. You had to be in bed by midnight with no choice. Most of the day you had to stay in the lounge which had a TV or the dining room and sometimes the outdoor courtyard which had a water tank for drinking from plastic cups. Sometime there would be no plastic cups and staff wouldn’t care to replace them.
Some of the staff at the Assessment Unit were not professional or kind. Though some of the good staff that are memorable for their kindness I see working for the trust today. Most didn’t really care much about the patients or their requests. The ward was pretty much a place to store people and prevent suicide. There was a very bad vibe and attitude with the patients. They quite often triggered people which led to violence or self harm. I regularly saw restraint and heard the alarm go off. The alarm would lead to many stuff rushing to the scene from the office and neighbouring wards.
There was a time when you couldn’t even charge your phone at the Assessment Unit. This really upset people. Smokers particularly struggled as you weren’t even allowed vapes either. I have never smoked so I was ok.
I could never get a Three mobile signal from the Assessment Unit so it was fairly basic for me. These days I try to get a mobile phone with 2 Sim slots, one with my rolling contract and a PAYG of a different operator like EE. This has often improved my chances of finding a signal. Recently the hospitals have been offering free WIFI which is much appreciated.
The Assessment Unit could be quite dirty. Though not as dirty as the wards at Basildon I would stay in during 2017. It was a very clinical feel to it. Wooden panelled floors. The toilets and bathroom would often be dirty. The bedrooms didn’t have their own showers so you used shared bathroom facilities. Like in all psychiatric hospitals, it tried to be suicide proof with buttons for taps and toilets.
After my three weeks in the Assessment Unit, I was transferred to a General Psychiatric Ward. This was Cedar Ward in Rochford Hospital. This was a far more modern ward and more comfortable. It was designed for longer stays. The Assessment Unit was only supposed to be for a few days but the lack of beds meant I and others had to make do.
Much like the Assessment Unit, Cedar Ward didn’t at the the time like people to stay in their rooms so once again you spent most of the day in the lounge, the dining room or the courtyard. Cedar Ward though had an extra lounge for the Men and Women plus the larger one for both genders.
In Cedar Ward you get duvets rather than blankets like Basildon hospital. You tended to get more food in Cedar Ward as well. In Cedar Ward you got your own room with an ensuite shower. Cedar Ward even had a patient phone but it often got vandalised by patients.
There were Occupational Therapy (OT) activities in Cedar Ward which they didn’t offer at the Assessment Unit. This could include art, listening to music, beauty, reading newspapers and cardio in the Gym. OT was only about 2 hours a day during weekdays.
I didn’t do much at all in Rochford hospital. I was so depressed I just slept in the armchair or pretended to. Not even books interested me. Fortunately my phone could get me a signal to access the internet. My Mother would also call me. They would allow you to charge your phone in Cedar Ward.
I met the psychiatrist in Rochford hospital and as usual I was asked what I expected them to do about it. I rattled off the long list of medications I had tried and explained I can’t work still so best for me to just kill myself. In the end I suggested Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I didn’t really care at that point and thought the Doctor would decline it. However, she decided to speak to my Mother and Stepdad about it.
My Mother wasn’t keen on me having ECT but it seemed to change her attitude towards me. She realised I needed serious help and now saw the reality of the condition my ex was trying to describe to her from Australia. She became a lot more supportive towards me from that point on.
I had 12 ECT shocks over 6 weeks in Basildon hospital. I would go to Basildon Hospital’s ECT Suite twice a week in a taxi with a nurse. The staff at the ECT Suite were very supportive. I would be anaesthetised during the procedure. I do have memory loss for the the Summer I was in Rochford. I was also seeing a CBT therapist weekly.
In the September I came back home. The depression lifted but I had huge financial worries for living. I wasn’t sure I would be able to survive on ESA and housing benefit. I sold a few things to make do. My Mum helped organised my affairs as well. I applied for PIP (personal independence payment) and was declined. In 2016 I found a part time job in Tesco to top up my benefits (They weren’t enough alone, I was under 35 so got even less housing benefit). This turned out to be a real struggle. I never returned to work as a full time web programmer ever again.
In 2016 I lost all my weight by stopping the medication briefly. I blog about this briefly here.