One of the things that took me by surprise when Gary was hospitalised was just how quickly he adjusted to being “inside”. What felt like isolation from the real world to me was his little safe haven; the place where he didn’t have to think about the craziness of the outside world, where he didn’t have to deal with the people and the traffic that surround every corner of London. He simply felt safe and comfortable, and that was what he needed.
What that didn’t prepare me for was how difficult it would be for him to leave that environment - not forever; we’re not quite at that point of our story - but for a short period of time; enough time to go to the cinema, or go get a coffee, or to make that first trip home.
What we learnt relatively quickly was that “baby-steps” were the only way forward, and that some days, no matter how hard you tried, the steps would not be in the direction you wanted them to be!
Our first attempt at “going out” was about ten days into his stay. The intention was to make it to Tesco - a few hundred yards down the road - just to buy some supplies for his room.
The reality was three minutes stood on the top step of the hospital, on high alert, looking out at all the people (there were only a handful) and all of the cars (it wasn’t rush hour) deciding whether or not he could make it down the steps to the crossing.
We went back into the hospital and up to his ward. Once the nurses clocked just how high his anxiety levels were, they gave him a magic little pill (Lorazepam) to bring him down to ‘normal’.
This ‘failure’ really affected Gary, and it was a while before he wanted to try again. I have to be honest, it affected me too. Not so much the fact that he couldn’t face going out, that’s happened before in the past, but the enormity of the reaction he had to just standing outside the hospital. Not on the pavement, not over the road, simply stood on the top step right by the door to his safe haven. I had a brief moment of fear wondering if he would ever be ready to take the next step.
But a few days later he was ready: not only did we go down the steps, we made it to Tesco, and he bought his psychiatrist the Mars Bar he had promised him the day before.
A small victory, but a victory none the less (even if the magic little pills had to be used again).
Another week passed, and Gary decided that he wanted to try staying out for longer. He wanted to try a cinema trip - after all, Justice League had been out for at least a week and he hadn’t seen it yet (must be the longest he has waited before seeing a DC film!)
For me, this trip was a turning point. Not only did he manage to stay out of the hospital for five hours, but he managed to order coffee without freaking out about how long it took to make; he managed to get on a train to Wembley (the quietest nearby cinema); navigate an unfamiliar territory (a shopping centre none-the-less!) and sit through the whole film mostly feeling ok. Admittedly his leg did start to get very twitchy in the last half an hour, but he held it together well and made it back to the hospital feeling like progress had been made.
The following week, he came home - for the first time in four weeks.
It still makes me chuckle now that we both had this HUGE expectation that weekend. We thought it was going to feel really normal him being home; lazy morning in bed, nice brunch at a local cafe, cook dinner together, maybe venture to the cinema. Laugh, joke and be silly together and just be us.
We were wrong.
It was awkward.
Nothing about it was normal.
The place that we had made our home for the last few years now reminded Gary of his lowest point: the day he had spent in bed, planning his suicide.
And it was tough. Really tough.
I tried to balance remaining positive and being my normal-self (loud, sarcastic, bubbly) with being sensitive to how Gary was feeling; giving him his own space and not smothering him (even though I didn’t want to stop cuddling him, checking he was ok or just being with him!)
He coped as best he could, but felt guilty when he needed to take Lorazepam and a sleeping tablet. But I could see that he didn’t feel totally safe, and he was worried that he would spend the night ruminating without a little help. So I know he did the right thing.
The next morning, we were both awake early after a restless nights sleep, and Gary said he just wanted to get back to the hospital ASAP. My heart sank a little that he was so keen to leave… but I also felt slightly relieved that once he was back at the hospital, I could worry less, safe in the knowledge he was safe again.
We spoke about the weekend at great length with his psychiatrist, the nurses and therapists, and soon realised that our expectations were FAR too high about what the first visit would be like.
It was never going to feel like a normal night, because how the hell could we have a ‘normal’ night at that time? Nothing about the situation was ‘normal’; last time Gary was home, he wanted to commit suicide. Of course it was going to bring back those memories!
Once again, we were both told we were being too hard on ourselves. And after talking about it more, we both decided that next time he came home, we would lower our expectations - not expect the world, or plan anything crazy, just take it as it comes and see what happens.
And you know what. It worked!
His next visit home was infinitely better!
He managed to use the underground, get a haircut, go for brunch, go to the cinema, cook dinner with me, go for a long walk, go shopping… and all without the need for a magic little pill.
Of course, there have still been ups and downs since that second visit home… but it gave Gary a lot more confidence that he was heading the right way in his recovery. Maybe more importantly, it helped him realise that the world isn’t moving on without him; it’s merely biding its time until he is ready to be a proper part of it again.
And on 30th December 2017, he was discharged from hospital after 50 days of intensive treatment.
Back to some kind of reality, and ready to find our new normal!
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org