The goldfish bowl… and ping pong with Ralph (Part 2)

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24th November 2017 received at 18:38

“You always cheer me up love seeing you xx”

Two weeks on, and things have finally calmed down a bit. I’ve seen more of Bo in the last 14 days than I have throughout the duration of our friendship, which is the advantage of knowing where he is every day! Bo’s been detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act, which basically means he will be in hospital for up to 28 days while they assess his mental capacity, and try to work out a diagnosis.

Today’s visit was mainly him telling me about his potential diagnosis (more on that later) and completing some basic paperwork tasks. When he was first admitted I bought him a cheap phone with credit, making it easier to arrange practical things like bringing in clothes or checking how he is without bothering the ward office. It’s amazing how quickly someone can become isolated without any technology or wifi these days. Trying to visit isn’t always easy due to my job and other commitments, but I do my best to work it around what I’ve got on, even if it’s just for half an hour on my lunch break.

Today’s visit was particularly pleasant, with several hugs and lots of positive statements from Bo about how he feels things have progressed. Compared to 48 hours ago when he told me he was going to escape, and demonstrated his rage by snapping his ipad into pieces (due to being refused any escorted leave and being incorrectly medicated) it was a step in the right direction.

 


9th November 2017 16:34

Sitting in the ambulance was a surreal experience. I had expected urgency, rushing around, and the blues and twos (whatever that means?!) to be blaring, but there was a slow and steady approach as the paramedic asked Bo general life questions and nonchalantly shaved his chest in preparation for the ECG stickers.

Bo explained to the trainee paramedic that he had been in hospital recently for a serious physical health issue, and that staff had raised concerns at the time about his mental health; but after a few extra days on the ward with no clear answers or meaningful support Bo did exactly what he always does when things aren’t going his way – a runner.

Eventually we pulled casually away from the bench in the direction of the local A&E, my lovely new car still abandoned haphazardly across the taxi bay. I did wonder briefly if I was going to come back to clamped wheels and a fluorescent note, and how I was going to travel back without any cash or cards on me, but I decided it could probably be worked out later. I glanced at Bo – squashed against the corner of the ambulance with wires sprouting from him like an alien life form, and realised that I was becoming part of something I couldn’t easily walk away from.

The wait in A&E was like a perverse game of musical chairs. Bo was confined to a wheelchair to reduce the risk of collapse given the vast quantity of pills he had consumed (not your typical paracetamol either, we are talking 60+ strong tablets that could do him some real irreversible damage). Every 20 minutes or so a rickety bed containing an ashen faced nonagenarian would be wheeled away, meaning we shuffled a few inches further along the crammed corridor towards wherever it was we were supposed to be going. Bo was insanely paranoid, eyeballing every passing staff member with suspicion and telling me they were planning to do something to him.

He said that he hadn’t intended on overdosing, but his original plan of jumping from a car park roof had failed when he couldn’t scale the safety fence, and the back up plan had to be aborted due to the crowds and traffic police at the railway station. Bo explained that he hadn’t wanted to ruin any more lives by allowing the train driver to hit him in front of so many passengers, but that the voices had kept telling him he needed to harm himself quickly, hence the compromise of necking all his prescribed medication.

In that moment there was a miniscule scrap of awareness of other people, haphazardly trying to shine its way through the charcoal mist… and for that I was extremely thankful.

It probably wasn’t the right moment to say it, but one thought popped into my head and out of my mouth as we waited in that bustling corridor (and who doesn’t come out with stupid stuff under pressure right?!)

 

“well, it wasn’t quite the second date I had expected us to have, but at least I can cross riding in an ambulance off the bucket list now!”

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The goldfish bowl… and ping pong with Ralph (Part 1)

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How it all began…

On 9th November 2017 at 15:53 I received the following:

“I took all the tablets I had 😦

I can’t cope with the voices anymore

I’m sorry”

The sender of these desperate messages was a friend of mine whom I shall call “Bo”. He had been in touch via messenger for most of the day describing hallucinations, paranoia, and a barrage of voices running a frightening, harmful commentary that only he could hear. I had encouraged him throughout the course of the day to seek medical advice , but it was a merry-go-round conversation with no committed conclusion from him. I couldn’t establish where he was living that day, if he had a current phone number or what exactly was going on, so I was unable to pass his details onto someone who might be able to help, which left me feeling uneasy.

I met Bo in November 2016 through a dating site, and although we struggled to establish regular meet ups (due to his sometimes sporadic communication and my general fear of commitment) we became good friends who messaged most days. We spoke about everything from our childhoods and worries to our favourite meals, and he became an erratic but important part of my life.

During 2016 – 2017 Bo struggled to maintain long term accommodation or consistent employment, which made me wonder if there was something going on for him that he wasn’t sharing during our chats. Some days he was on top of the world, with the confidence to achieve anything he wanted; at other times he was negative, paranoid and self absorbed. I found this inconsistency very frustrating and at one point we didn’t speak for a few weeks, but we eventually fell back into our pattern of idle chit chat and world debate. I was never quite sure where he was likely to be mentally, physically or emotionally, but tried to keep an open mind and accept him for whoever, however, and wherever he was on any particular day. He was an intelligent man, who on a good day would give me sound advice and a friendly kick up the arse!

On 9th November 2017 at 15:57 I rang an ambulance, and described the place where I thought they could find Bo. I wasn’t even sure if he had taken an overdose, or if he would be at the location he had mentioned, but not doing anything was too expensive a gamble. I had been in training at the time he had sent the texts, so at 16:04 I returned to the room and whispered a brief apology before gathering my belongings and heading out to track him down.

Bo was sitting on a bench, looking lost. I swerved my car into a taxi rank and propelled myself towards him, hugging his head and shoulders clumsily as soon as I was close enough. I sat down and looked at him, trying to work out if he was likely to collapse, vomit, or run away from me, but all I saw was someone utterly consumed by a burden he was no longer able to outrun. He looked at me with big, sad eyes and I pulled him toward me, us both completely uncharacteristically lost for words. I watched the traffic nearby, wondering what on earth I should do next and how many other people out there were going through this torment in isolation. As I continued to gaze at the oncoming vehicles and stroke Bo’s arm, the ambulance I had called moments earlier trundled slowly into view. I gestured manically with my free hand, and from the moment the driver pulled up at that lonely little bench Bo’s journey through the mental health system began.

 

**End of Part 1**

 

If you know, you know.

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In July 2017 Chester Bennington (lead singer of Linkin Park) committed suicide. There had been reports of him seeming “fine” and “happy” only hours before he took his life. The public shared many opinions about what he had done, and I read comments stating that if he had sung less depressing songs he might have felt better, and that his actions were selfish and cowardly. I saw statuses written by my friends and social media acquaintances identifying with Chester’s feelings of hopelessness and despair, and using the event as an opportunity to reach out about their own mental health. Although I am really glad to see that his death has encouraged people to talk about how they feel, I am also worn down by attitudes towards mental health, the act of suicide, and the belief that they are a choice, in the same way it is a choice to have a cheese sandwich for lunch.

I am not trying to defend or glamorise suicide, it is a horrific and final action that shatters lives. Yes, it is pretty “selfish” that Chester “chose” to be dead rather than raise his children, but what on earth does that tell you about his quality of life? He may have been famous, adored by the public and in a decent financial position, but those things are no guarantee of happiness or inner peace. People who seem to have it all are not immune to becoming unwell.

Whenever there is a high profile suicide, suicide attempt, or disclosure about addiction of some kind, there is a tendency for kneejerk reactions offering support and advice to anyone identifying with said issue. It’s all well and good being reactive in a crisis, but where is the prevention? Anyone who wants to help must recognise that an individual who is at breaking point often can’t express their feelings, and could be reluctant to discuss what is going on. They may even appear to be happy, with little or no indication that something is terribly wrong. That’s not to say everyone is like that, some people repeatedly express their feelings of despair. The difficulty is that those in the first position appear outwardly to be coping, and may even be a source of support and inspiration to others – how can you be depressed, anxious or suicidal if you work every day, help charities and counsel friends and family?! Those in the second position are also in a tricky spot too, as constant “down days”, or frequent patterns of behaviour such as heavy drinking or drug taking become accepted as traits of that person’s personality, something to be ignored.

Feeling mentally unwell is “the black dog”, “the elephant sitting on my chest”, “living in a bubble”, “like a heart attack”, “falling” “as though everything around is just burning down”, “like sitting in the deepest hole“…and yet for some it may be nothing like that. Without listing all known mental illnesses and describing the symptoms, it is impossible to explain what it is like, and even then I wouldn’t come close. For some people, becoming unwell is like a big fog settling in around them, a dense cloud obscuring their view. For others it might be a crippling fear that strikes with no notice, snatching away the safety of reality, plummeting that person into a cyclone of worst case scenarios and powerlessness. Sometimes there is an overwhelming sensation of hopelessness, and a numb afterglow leaving them detached from emotions and events.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we as friends, colleagues, acquaintances, lovers, (whatever other kind of relationship you have going on!) owe it to each other to reach out. Not just when people look like they’re struggling, for example during bereavement, relationship break downs or redundancy. I’m talking about reaching out because you haven’t spoken to someone in a few weeks, or because a song reminds you of them.  Of course this isn’t a substitute for appropriate medication and therapeutic intervention, but you’d be amazed at how much your “thinking of you” postcard or facebook message could mean to someone, and potentially change the course of their day.

Check out the link below. It is a heavy read, as it is about people who have attempted or committed suicide. But what all the stories have in common is that there were people around who loved, and strangers who cared enough to not ignore what was happening. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions.

STORIES OF SUICIDE

 

 

Wedding Reading for Sarah & Rory 2.9.2017

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Gather your passports

Choose your destination

Set off for adventure

Take turns holding the map, or ripping it up if you need to, and never be afraid to ask for directions. Acknowledge each other’s feelings, you are on this voyage together and must adjust your sails to meet the shifting pace of the wind. Marriage is a choice you have made today and forevermore, to explore the world as a pair, a duo with life at your fingertips.

When turbulence strikes, buckle up and breathe. Notice your appreciation when the firm ground you mindlessly walk upon every day is within reach once again. It is a brave thing to trust, and share your body and soul again after hurt and heartache, but a sparkling sunrise and birdsong are the rewards for banishing your ghosts.

Travel does not exist without home – it is a comforting, reflective space in which to contemplate your future opportunities. You must spare it the same care and energy as you do for holidays, excursions, mini breaks and plane watching (Rory!)

When spending time with your true love the end destination becomes less important than the dazzling sunsets, serene evenings of moonlight, and even the disastrous journeys that become your favourite anecdotes. Indulge in rich food, drink good wine, skinny dip, get lost in fields and forests, hold hands and walk in the rain. You are never too old to breathe in the new air after a storm has passed, or make angels in freshly fallen snow.

Love is not painful, unpredictable or cruel. It is patient, loyal and forgiving. It is a union on a glorious summer’s afternoon, with friends and family close by.

Bill’s Restaurant (High Wycombe Review)

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To kick start my birthday weekend, my pal Lara and I went for dinner at Bill’s in High Wycombe. Having had mixed experiences with this chain (previous Wycombe trip – good, Covent Garden trip – terrible) I was a little apprehensive, but optimistic for a pleasant girls night out.

Our waiter for the evening was Ilias, a polite and attentive waiter ‘borrowed’ from Bill’s Windsor. We had a chat with Darren, the manager, who had been told about my disappointing meal in Covent Garden (and also the fact it was my birthday!), and he promised to take good care of us.

To start, we shared calamari and a summer salad. The calamari was piping hot, with crispy batter and a deliciously soft inside. The salad even managed to impress Lara, who is what one might call an expert on anything of the leafy ‘superfood’ variety. To wash it all down we indulged in some signature cocktails – (I started with a bramble mojito, and I think Lara had a raspberry and rosehip collins – extremely refreshing).

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We were both getting full by this point, but decided diligently to struggle on through the mains (such troopers!) Halloumi/chicken salad and diablo gnocci were our chosen dishes, sploshed down with skinny colada (think pina colada but less sickly and rich), a peach bellini and a chilled bottle of birthday prosecco. Oh, and we had a side salad and sweet potato fries just in case we were still a little peckish. Obviously. The halloumi/chicken salad was refreshing and well presented, and the king prawns perfectly complimented the gently spiced gnocci balls they were swimming between.

Ilias did try his best to convince us that a dessert was a necessary evil, but we were inevitably beaten and bloated by this stage in proceedings. (Well, other than a teeny weeny tiny little espresso martini just to cleanse the palate. *Ahem*)

An absolutely brilliant meal with top quality service and a lovely relaxed atmosphere. My faith in Bill’s is most definitely restored.

Thanks Darren and Ilias, hopefully see you again!!

UNBROKEN

madeleine black

“Used, beaten but never broken. My story of survival and hope.”

It felt somewhat crass to label this blog a ‘book review’, so instead I am going to use the opportunity to reflect on my reactions to reading “Unbroken”, and promote the message Madeleine Black has to share with the world. ‘Meeting’ Madeleine on twitter was a happy accident, due to me following lots of prisoner/justice/charity accounts and somehow becoming linked to her. I had no idea of her story, or that she had written a book, but after conversing for a few months and seeing her tweets I felt compelled to buy “Unbroken”.

“For many years after that night, my memories of what happened after he held the blade to my throat and threatened my life were fragmented…difficult to piece together. It was too extreme, too violent for me to understand.”

The subject of rape is one that evokes many societal reactions. Distress, disgust, discomfort, and denial are a few words that spring to mind. Madeleine’s story crept into every fibre of my being from page one, and her narrative reached me in a way many writers have never managed. While sharing descriptions of her life as a teenager Madeleine maintains a matter of fact style, but the suffocating account of her assault infiltrated the darkest corners of my mind. As I read, I found myself experiencing a multitude of physical and emotional responses, which was exceedingly uncomfortable and ‘real’.  She describes her time in The Mildred Creak Unit, and I became overwhelmingly claustrophobic and apprehensive, desperately willing someone to understand and name what was behind her silence.

“Unbroken” is not ‘just’ a story about a woman who was raped. It is a tribute to everyone who has been either a victim or perpetrator of violence, and a life lesson to those lucky enough to not know the pain of either. Madeleine shares her life without pity, and it is refreshing to read a memoir that is so incredibly raw, yet balanced. It is a reminder that one day or night can be enough to change us forever, but we alone choose and mould that change, and our future. Madeleine’s triumphs and challenges on her healing path are recalled with humility, grace and honesty. The book is compelling, heart-breaking and inspiring all at once, covering so many aspects of life after rape. The final chapter left me feeling exhausted yet strangely revitalised, and wondering when I would be ready to start again from chapter one to absorb the details I’d missed.

Thank you Madeleine for sharing your reality with the masses. You have spoken for those still silent,  those working through trauma and those whose bravery to stand and be counted empowers survivors worldwide. There is something quite beautiful about “Unbroken”, and I think my favourite part is there being a message for everyone to take away – no matter who they are. Madeleine speaks boldly to the world, raising herself up from a muted shell to an influential, educated champion of forgiveness.

 

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