If you ask my husband what he remembers about the day he was admitted to the hospital, he will probably tell you, “sweet F.A”.
That’s the incredible thing about the human brain – when it’s going through that amount of trauma, it kind of refuses to commit anything to memory. It seems to focus purely on doing just enough to keep you functioning, making sure you can do only the things you absolutely need to do; no more, no less.
I, on the other hand, remember it all clearly.
I remember the awkwardness as we tried to figure out what the hell to pack in the morning, I remember the silence of the journey on the tube with him squeezing my hand so tightly, I remember fighting to hold back tears most of the day, I remember the fear in his eyes when we waited in reception for him to be taken up to his room, I remember feeling scared as he answered the hundreds of questions about his state of mind, and I remember feeling like I had abandoned the man I love as I walked out of the hospital that first night.
In many ways, it was a tougher day than 8th November. Because now we couldn’t ignore it. We couldn’t pretend that it was ‘just a bad day’, that it would pass and he would magically wake up and feel better. We HAD to deal with it – it was real.
The first few days were… bizarre, I guess. My folks came to stay to help me out, even though I didn’t know what help I needed. Gary spent time settling in and made what seemed to be good progress; he managed to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the canteen on his own (big win against anxiety!), he tried a mindfulness session and found that it helped, and was even brave enough to speak to the nurses when his anxiety elevated. As complete newbies to the situation, we both saw this as massive, immediate progress and I managed to convince myself that this was going to be a short stay, new meds, bit of therapy, job done!
Oh how naïve we were!
I think the reality of the situation really hit me the first Monday Gary was in hospital - 13th November. He texted me first thing in the morning telling me that he was feeling really low, and had been thinking about suicide all night. I remember him asking, ‘do you think you could come in a bit earlier today?’ I asked if he wanted me to come in now, and he simply said ‘yes please, I need you’.
When I got to his room, he honestly looked like shit.
It took me straight back to five days before when I got home after receiving ‘that’ text message. He just looked empty and vacant. I felt hopeless. But I just held him close and gave whatever words of encouragement I could muster up - I don’t think I even believed them at this point, but I tried to say them with conviction - ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ and all that!
Some point soon after my arrival, one of the nurses came into his room and explained that because of the suicidal thoughts Gary had been having, and how low he was feeling, they needed to make sure his room was ‘safe’. By this point I’d already done a ‘reccy’ of the room to see if there was any way he could harm himself - little did I know that as I was doing my ‘safety checks’, Gary was doing a similar check to look for ‘opportunities’.
The nurse was clearly more used to this situation than me, as she spotted a couple of other potential “opportunities” and had to remove the offending items. I don’t know why it was that specific action that made it hit me: my husband didn’t want to live anymore.
I almost felt like I was betraying him when I asked ‘what about these?’ and passed the nurse some more of Gary’s personal items. But it was necessary; he was high risk, he wasn’t stable and they needed to do whatever they could to change that.
His psychiatrist visited him that day, and so the decision was made to put him on 1:1, which basically meant he had a nurse with him at all times (at one point, this even involved opening the bathroom door whilst he was using the toilet). Invasive? Yes. Shaming? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely!
I cried when I left the hospital that night. Partly because the enormity of the situation had finally hit me, partly with relief because I knew he was safe and it wasn’t my responsibility, and partly through guilt because I was looking forward to being able to sleep without waking up and panicking that something had happened.
Fortunately, the 1:1 nursing only lasted two days and then Gary was moved back to 15 minute checks. It was a weird sense of relief when that happened; if the professionals who see this every day weren’t concerned, then I knew I shouldn’t be either.
Of course, the reality of it all isn’t that black and white, and the worry is still there sometimes, but I knew deep down that this slight shift in his mind was him fighting and wanting to get past this. And I continue to see that fight in him every day.
This blog is one of two telling this story from the perspective of Fran and her husband Gary. You can read Gary’s account here