Christmas; the most wonderful time of the year? Or is it?
Not for everyone it isn’t. Three years ago I spent Christmas in a psychiatric ward away from my husband and daughter and that will always be at the back of my mind as the shops begin to fill with glitter and the TV adverts show perfect family Christmas’.
I can tell myself I ‘forgive me’ for missing that Christmas with my daughter and build lots of new happier memories in the years since then. What’s not to forgive? I was ill.
I had been going down hill in my mood since earlier in the year and had begged for help. My GP was worried and referred me back to the community mental health team who reviewed me and agreed with the GP that I was depressed but then didn’t do a great deal to help me. I continued to slide, even more rapidly as the days got shorter and the nights got colder my husband became more worried each day. He knew how my thought patterns were scaring me, how I had an overwhelming urge to end my emotional torment. I wanted to die.
I couldn’t get to sleep, when I did succeed in dropping off I was soon awake wishing that I wasn’t. I live in a small apartment so rather than wake the household up I took to walking along the sea front for hours over night. I can’t remember what my thought process was, whether I thought I would tire myself out or clear my head or even if I knew myself. One morning my husband received a telephone call from a friend saying they had seen me sitting on a bench near the sea, I was near knee deep in snow. I have no idea how long I was there but he describes struggling to straighten my fingers to help me up as I was so cold. He took me home and called the mental health team again to ask for help as he couldn’t cope much longer. A consultant psychiatrist told him that I was a grown woman and if I wanted to go for a walk then I was entitled to do so. Exasperated my husband asked for an appointment to take me in for review in person, he pleaded with them saying how out of character this was for me and that he could no longer be responsible for my safety.
When we attended for that appointment the same consultant told him ‘not to worry as women with children didn’t kill themselves’ which I think we all know, tragically, is not true.
My husband asked them to refer to my advance statement where as a well person I had written down that if I ever became that depressed again I would prefer to have ECT again as I wanted to get well as quickly as I had done last time with that treatment. We asked for CPN support to take some pressure off my husband and were laughed at (yes literally!) and told that I ought to think myself lucky that I have good friends and family for support and CPN’s were reserved for people with no support at all.
The consultant agreed eventually about the ECT though and as my husband guaranteed to have a friend or family member with me for 24 hours post each treatment it was agreed I could have this as an outpatient. I was to go home and they would be in touch to let me know when to go for my first treatment. I think the psychiatrist maybe started to realise how unwell I was as he asked me to come back in a few days to see his junior Dr.
When I saw his junior a few days later I’m not sure what changed but there was talk about a CPN being considered a as a care co-ordinator and inpatient treatment was being discussed. This was early December.
I was told that as soon as a bed became available I would be admitted for ECT, I wasn’t well enough to agree or disagree with this I just did as I was told. On 12th December I was told a bed would be available the following day and ECT would start later that week. On the 13th of December 2010 I took my first steps onto an adult acute mental health ward with eyes like a rabbit in the headlights, I was terrified.
The ward staff told me later that my disconnected appearance shocked them, they struggled to comprehend how unwell I was and still been at home not even having been referred to the crisis team. I didn’t ‘know the system well enough’ to know I could have self referred.
Three days I was on the ward before I ate or drank because it was so busy that no one had noticed. I was quietly depressed, lost in ward full of very unwell people vocalising their distress. I can imagine now in hindsight that my notes would say ‘low profile’ or ‘no management issues’. My husband asked me when he visited what I had eaten and I couldn’t remember what I had had so he had spoken to the ward. I was now more on their radar and at least was encouraged to eat and drink. As my ECT began it became apparent that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas. My memory is cloudy around this time though so I don’t recall if I was upset by this. I think I was pretty much void of emotion by this stage.
Apparently my husband was allowed to take me out on Christmas Day for a couple of hours in the morning but I don’t remember this. He tells me the ward staff tried to make people feel as at home as possible over the festive period but that passed me by.
ECT worked but more slowly this time, it was 30th March before I was discharged, I discovered I had been appointed a CPN the week I was admitted to hospital. We had a Christmas dinner on Easter Sunday but my daughter who had just turned four that Christmas has clear memories of me not being at home.
She once described it as ‘the Christmas mammy was in hospital with her bouncy leg’ as when I was anxious my leg used to bouncy uncontrollably. Strange the things kids remember eh?
I know I was ill and I had done everything I was able to stop myself becoming that unwell. I know it wasn’t my fault I wasn’t there for Christmas in 2010 but still the guilt washes over me each year since. Motherhood brings guilt as a standard feature I understand from talking to other mothers but missing out on my daughters entire first year and a Christmas a few years after that are moments I can never recreate for her. All I can do is make sure that her future is filled with new memories and that she is able to look back on her childhood fondly.
Before having my daughter Christmas was very different, I volunteered to make Christmas dinner for local homeless people rather than be alone. It gave me a reason to avoid the dysfunction which surrounds my family although I’m sure they would have invited me had I wanted it. When I had my own child I vowed that I would make each and every memory she has of the festive period a magical one.
As a nearly qualified mental health nurse I am in a position where I often meet people for whom Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It is often a time to endure and ‘get through’ but I know that they can and will get through it, I did. I understand that you can be in a room full of people and yet still feel alone at Christmas. I wish I could wave a wand and make it better for everyone but alas I don’t have magic powers. I can make magic happen for my little girl though and hopefully will for years to come.
‘Tis the season to be jolly… Yeah?!?!