Infinite Sadness

Catherine Reddell

Published by Catherine Reddell, 2009 Catherine Reddell P O Box 25-327 Christchurch 8144 © Catherine Reddell, 2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior permission of the copyright owner except for the purposes of fair review.

Printed by “Microfilm Digital Print” a division of the Microfilm Ltd, 65 Victoria Street, Christchurch, New Zealand Proof reading by Marianne Todd ISBN: 978-0-473-15450-9 All names (except the author’s) have been changed in order to protect identity and the right to privacy.

2

To my brothers, who in their own ways, sought to understand and accept my darkness. It must have been hard to watch helplessly as your sister did everything she could to destroy herself in the desire to find wholeness through the pain of depression and chronic mental illness. . My words are insufficient to express my gratitude … but thanks guys. I love you both!

Note: The picture on the cover represents the familiar feeling of being on a playground merry-go-round, going faster and faster, at the hands of someone other than myself, with no way off but to jump. I have to weigh up the cost. How much will I be hurt? Do I stay and hang on for dear life or do I jump?

3

4

Index

Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21

A Letter to the Reader A Different Christmas How does a Nightmare Begin? A New Diagnosis A Rock to Hide Under No Stone Left Unturned A Fresh Start Ever Decreasing Circles To Love and Honour Forbidden Thoughts Sledge-hammer Therapy Grapes and Thorns Staying Alive Patient Life There is a Place Down in the Woods Beginning Again Psychedelic Moments With Difficulty Those Who Stand Helpless After Church Infinite Sadness
5

6 9 16 28 31 39 53 63 70 80 92 103 118 129 140 147 156 160 167 172 182 188

6

Prologue – a Letter to the Reader
There I was; life was looking pretty good. I couldn’t really complain. I had a good job, good health, good friends and a close relationship with my family, who lived in other parts of the country. I had a deepening relationship with a man who seemed to want the same things in life as me. So much so that he was shifting cities to be closer to me. As I said, things were looking pretty good. That was 1993. But not much later things turned to custard. Relationships with friends, family and my employer turned sour when I could no longer cope. I couldn’t live with myself let alone with anyone else. Years have gone by and I have scars – both physical and mental – to show for the war I have been through. Have you ever just wanted to cry, but your eyes have failed and there are no more tears? You just feel wretched and wish for an end. Have you ever wanted desperately to take the sharpest knife in the drawer and cut deep into your body? Just to see the blood flow and feel some physical pain. Perhaps you’ve seen the scars on another and wondered. Have you ever felt the overwhelming heaviness of sadness and depression? Not just a day or a week but months and months? Have you ever felt what seems to be infinite sadness? Have you battled to put the smallest mouthful of food in your mouth and swallow? Or not been able to stop eating, more and more food? Nothing satisfies. It doesn’t matter if you feel sick, you just have to keep going. It’s something tangible. It’s not in your head. Or perhaps you’ve been the one who has had to watch seemingly helpless, as someone close to you has suffered unspeakable pain. Have you been unable to take their pain away? You can’t make them eat. You can’t prevent the scars. Or convince them to take the medication that has adverse side affects, and just makes them
7

feel worse. Have you been seemingly unable to make a difference for your friend or family member? Well you are making a difference in just being there, being with him or her. Being there is enough; it doesn’t take great words of wisdom. You probably wouldn’t get the right words anyway. I have written this book with two thoughts in mind. Firstly I want to tell those who suffer that they are not alone. Through the years I have grasped at books that told me someone else was suffering out there too. Sometimes it took a long time to read as my concentration was hopeless, but it did help me to read. Maybe it will help you too. Secondly I want to give a glimpse to those who have to watch their loved ones suffer. Everybody experiences mental illness differently. My story will not tell you how your loved one feels or what they experience. I can’t guarantee that you will feel better for having read my book. It’s not that type of book. Actually it will be hard to read sometimes. Hopefully it gives some insight into the type of difficulty and pain that people with mental illness experience. If by telling my story I help one person to keep going, or to understand mental illness a bit better, then that is enough. The hard hours of facing my pain by putting it on paper will have been worth it. If my words go some way to bridging the gap between those who experience mental illness and those who have to stand and watch, it will have been worth taking the risk of telling my story. I don’t expect that all of my words will be understood by everyone, let alone be accepted. But I believe that the more people talk (and read) about mental illness, the more it will be accepted in society and the easier it becomes to bear. In order to protect individuals I have changed all names except my own, and that of my parents. I hope that by changing names I have left the individuals referred to with their right to privacy. It is my story and not theirs so there is no need to identify those involved.
8

9

Chapter 1 – A Different Christmas
"It's always winter and never Christmas." Mr Tumnus in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, C. S. Lewis

Christmas. Usually a time of celebration, festivities and of new beginnings. This time though, Christmas was a time for tears, a time for pain, and for anguish. Celebration was so far from our minds that Christmas hardly registered at all. Two days before Christmas. Most people are finishing their preparations for Christmas. Last minute shopping. Perhaps finishing work for the holiday break. Travelling to celebrate the holiday season, usually with family or friends. That's what Christmas is all about. For some families, and certainly mine, a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God. For others the focus is on having fun with family and friends, usually drinking and eating too much, vowing to go on a diet as soon as it's over. This Christmas, of 1994 was different. Newly married only three months earlier, Dave and I were also travelling, but not with the view to celebrating the festive season. I was being admitted to Ashburn Clinic, a private psychiatric hospital in Dunedin. I didn’t want to be going, and at every chance I considered making a run for it … but where? I really wanted to run from life altogether. I'd had enough and so desperately wanted to put it to an end. I had now been sick for 15 months and my suicidal thoughts were the reason I was heading for a psychiatric hospital. That was why Dave was taking me there. That is why Christmas this year would be a time for tears, rather than peace, happiness or joy.
10

I sat on the plane and cried silently. What was happening to me? What had gone so wrong that we were, heading for a psychiatric hospital two days before Christmas? Why me? How could this be happening? My crazed mind was flooded with questions. We had a stop in Christchurch to change planes but I had no desire to see my family. We just sat and waited. We finally arrived in Dunedin. The shuttle bus driver knew exactly where we were going – he had obviously taken plenty of prospective patients to Ashburn Clinic before. It seemed we went all over Dunedin, dropping other people off before arriving at our destination. As we travelled I cried some more behind my sunglasses, wondering what was to become of me. Dave at least knew Dunedin, having lived there for a while as a child, but I had no idea where we were going, and when we would actually get there. The day had already seemed as if it would never end, but really it was only just beginning. Through my tears I hesitantly told the receptionist who I was. They had been expecting me. Again, I just wanted to turn and run. How could I stay here? Me? I had to get away, but where to? I knew no one in Dunedin and knew I wasn't in a state to get very far – perhaps the end of the driveway. This was all a first for me. I had twice visited people in public psychiatric wards, but never thought I would be admitted myself. I looked around at the other people wandering through the reception area, wondering whether they were staff or patients. It was hard to tell them apart. There were no uniforms here. Surely I didn't look like the other patients, did I? Surely I was different. As I waited to go through the admission process with the on-duty psychiatrist, another patient came up and introduced herself as Shelly. Apparently she was to be my ‘buddy’, and so she told me
11

that she would see me later. In the meantime, she patted me on the shoulder and said “Hang in, it'll be all right,” How could it be all right? My buddy? What was this place? Shelly looked about 18. I was only 29 but I felt so old, and so, so different. How on earth could I possibly stay here? Dave was also starting to wonder. Was he prepared to leave his wife here, with patients like Shelly to befriend me? What was happening? He kept his thoughts to himself. He knew how much I was struggling. Struggling to live, let alone allow myself to be admitted into such a place. Finally the psychiatrist (Tony) appeared, ready to make his assessment of me. I felt like I'd been through so many assessments already that I thought I could just about tell him what his questions would be. They turned out much the same as previous psychiatric assessments; although he stumped me with a few new ones like "Are your teeth your own?” In three-quarters of an hour he ran through his assessment of me (and my relationship to Dave). He also explained to Dave and me that Ashburn Clinic was more of a healing group type environment, than a straight hospital. It was a therapeutic community where individual issues were worked through in a group environment. Tony gave a very brief run down on what I could expect from then on. It was about 5.00pm and he seemed keen to leave for the day. He handed us over to a nurse who would show me to my room. When our doctor back in Auckland had recommended that I go to Ashburn Clinic over the Christmas period, it was on the basis of information Ashburn Clinic had given to him. He was a doctor I trusted immensely. Apparently someone had given the impression to him that there would be more staff and fewer patients over the
12

Christmas period, so there could be more concentrated attention given toward helping me. Somewhere along the line, someone had got the wrong story. There would not be more staff, but instead a skeleton staff for patients unable to go home for Christmas. Every time Dave or I mentioned the information we had been given, the staff just laughed, and told us that no patient got more attention than anyone else anyway. With a skeleton of patients and staff there would be very little happening over the next two weeks. Basically, it seemed that what was being offered was what I would call a ‘baby-sitting’ service. Medication and meals at the appropriate times. There would be a psychiatrist on-call, and a few group activities to celebrate Christmas but that was all. Having been through administration admission, psychiatric admission, and the ward nursing admission, Dave and I were finally left alone in my room. Tears came quickly. We looked at each other totally speechless for a long time. Then we clung to each other, and felt we had been duped. Somewhere along the way some one had got it wrong. Now here I was admitted, but with nothing ahead of me. My room was very basic. It was right opposite the nurses’ station and looked as if it hadn’t been decorated for 50 years. There was a bed, a wardrobe and a small set of drawers. It was dark and the only window looked out on clotheslines. It was far from what we had imagined when we had looked at the brochure which showed a huge stately building and lovely gardens. Inside was definitely not like the outside. The paint was old, the wallpaper ripped and carpet worn. Dave wondered what he had done, in bringing me there. What was the point? Sure there were nurses to ‘keep me safe’ but that
13

was all. Dave thought he could do that himself at home; and inwardly but silently, he ached. How could he admit to me what he was feeling? How could he admit to having brought me, even though I didn't want to be there? Now there was practically nothing here for me. I learnt later that to ache inwardly, and not let the other in, was just driving us apart. But in such a situation it was so hard. So hard for Dave to see the woman he loved, hurting so badly. He wished to be able to take it all away, but he couldn't. All he could do was watch helplessly, and try to stand by me. The skeleton programme planned for the next two weeks, led us to believe that there was little point in me being there. Dave felt fairly confident that he could ‘keep me safe’, and I promised him that if I felt suicidal I would admit it to him. With promises made, we rang our doctor in Auckland to explain what we wanted to do. He was satisfied, and so we decided to leave the hospital. We would remain in Dunedin until after Christmas, when we would re-consider. If things got worse I would return to Ashburn Clinic immediately, but in the meantime we would stay with a friend of Dave's family. When we were finally able to contact the psychiatrist again (he had left for the day), he reluctantly put me ‘on leave’ from Ashburn Clinic, but requested that we return the next morning, to further discuss our intentions. It was such a relief to drive away. Away from there to the sanctuary of the home of an elderly friend of Dave's family. She welcomed us with open arms. There, we could rest from the nightmare of the day. There, I could try to pretend that none of this was happening, until the next morning. The morning came too soon. I felt almost paralysed with fear that perhaps the psychiatrist would change his mind, and want to keep
14

me at Ashburn Clinic. Could he do that? Would he do that? Would Dave stand by me, and ensure that didn't happen… or would the psychiatrist talk him around? Yet again the questions turned over and over in my mind. As we drove back there I just wanted to get out of the car and run. I couldn't face the thought of going on to the property again, let alone face the appointment. As I walked past the room that had been allocated to me in Pinel Ward, the horror of the day before flooded back with full force. My name on the bedroom door rammed it home. As the appointment began Dave was asked to leave the room. Just me, to face this unknown doctor! (I was later to discover that Dave had been asked to leave the room so that the psychiatrist could be sure that it was really me, and not Dave who was against me staying.) Eventually Dave was brought in, and agreement was reached. I was to return the following Wednesday. In the meantime I could remain ‘on leave’ from the hospital, but was to return the moment there were any problems. And so, Christmas became a time for more tears, more questioning of us, a time to hide from the frightening reality... and a time to wonder what would happen in the next week. As one of the conditions of leave, Dave removed all medication from me. I apparently could not be trusted, so just as nurses would have given me medication at allocated times, so Dave was to do the same. We did nothing to celebrate Christmas Day. The woman we were staying with had gone away for the day, and we were thankful to have the time to ourselves. The last thing on our minds was celebration and festivity. We cringed when our families rang to wish us a merry Christmas. How could it be? How could we celebrate anything, while the weight of the week to follow hung like a thick, black curtain over us? In the afternoon, despite the
15

bitter cold (it was meant to be summer), we walked the streets of Dunedin. The place seemed as dead as I felt. As the following Wednesday approached, the day I was meant to return to Ashburn Clinic, I became more and more convinced that I didn't want to go there. I didn't want to become part of their community, as it had been explained to us. Painting pictures, and talking with fellow patients in groups, etc was not going to solve anything. That wasn't me! Dave agreed. The Ashburn Clinic environment might be ideal for many people, but we were both sure that it wasn't what we were after. We returned to Auckland, hoping we could find an answer there. Hoping we could find an answer to the nightmare we faced. Strangely, I had begun to see a faint glimmer of hope while in Dunedin, and we hoped and prayed that it would continue, and grow eventually to full recovery. (Since then, there have been many questions asked about where that glimmer of light came from. It wasn’t to last. Instead I was to plummet even further.) And so had passed Christmas of 1994 – certainly not a time of celebration.

16

Chapter 2 – How Does a Nightmare Begin?
"Now I am setting out into the unknown. It will take a long while to work through the grief. There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through." Madeleine L'Engle

Christmas comes once a year. We expect it, we plan for it, and we look forward to it. But when a serious illness strikes, it comes straight out of the blue. Blue skies suddenly turn grey. Dark clouds are all around, and people run for cover. I had always been healthy. Until now there was no one in my family who had suffered a serious illness, nor had anyone died in tragic circumstances. The only early death in the family had been my grandfather who had died in his early sixties of injuries left by the war. The closest I had come to the agony of prolonged illness had been a woman I had worked with for a number of years. I did what I could to support Tracy, but never thought anything like that could happen to me. Each time Tracy was admitted to hospital for further treatment and surgery, I was there by her side. Each time she had to take more time off work, I battled on her behalf for her to be able to keep her job. And when she had no money and had to approach Social Welfare for help, I was there. Feeling her pain, thinking I understood – but still blindly thinking that it would never happen to me, or to my family. Each weekend, we read of the fatal road accidents recorded in the newspaper, but we never stop to think for long that it could be us next weekend – or perhaps someone close to us. The nightmare of my own illness began with the diagnosis of glandular fever in August 1993. Looking back, it wasn't too surprising. I was 27 and I had definitely been ‘burning the candle at both ends’. I was working hard in a relatively new job having only come back to Auckland eight months earlier. I was a
17

management training consultant for a small company, and was paid on commission for each training package I sold. The job entailed a lot of travel for the actual training that I facilitated myself. At the same time I was developing a relationship with Dave, the man I would marry. He was living in Wellington. We were often talking by telephone well into the night (this was in the days before texting, and toll calls were significantly cheaper after 10.00pm), and travelling at weekends to be together. In addition to all this I was very involved in my church and always at the gym after work. I had little time for catching up on sleep. I shifted to Auckland not just for the job but also because I was on the run. I was running from two different men, James and Richard who both stalked me for nearly 14 years. No matter where I went, or how often I changed my address, they would eventually find me. I’d had enough. Every time I parked my car somewhere I knew that I was likely to come back to find a note on the windscreen from one of them. My flatmates, especially guys, would answer the phone and be interrogated by them about their relationship with me. Flowers would arrive on my doorstep, or in one instance on my brother’s doorstep because I couldn’t be found. I would receive letters threatening me. I had had enough. Nothing seemed to deter them. I couldn’t bear to live like that any longer and nothing seemed to deter them. Even though I felt like they were winning if I left town to get away, I had got to the stage where I just wanted peace. Richard was someone introduced to me through Dad, who was the minister of the local Baptist Church. This man was in his 30’s, and was in and out of hospital with schizophrenia. He came to church occasionally and was friends with some people there. The first realisation I had of Richard’s attention to me was a letter he wrote to me when I was 14. The letter said that God had told him that I should marry him. If I didn’t I would be going against God’s will and God would punish me. Richard threatened that bad things
18

would happen to me if I did not obey. But that was only the start. He would ring me and turn up on the doorstep often – well at least when he was out of hospital. I used to love the times he was in hospital, as I knew he wouldn’t turn up. But still he would write proclaiming God’s will for us and his love for me. Apart from talking to my friend Jacinta when that first letter arrived, I didn’t really talk to anyone about it all until well after I had left home. While still at home I was partly protected by my family being there. Once I left home, and the stalking became more overt, my strategy for avoiding Richard’s stalking habits was to eventually change churches, shift flats regularly and never have a phone in my name (so I could be traced through phone listings). I also never allowed my details to be in any other sort of phone list. Anyone who didn’t know me well enough to have my phone number and address, had to go through my brother Craig. Looking back I should have gone to the police, and taken out a restraining order against him. But I thought that because he’d never been actually physically violent toward me that I would not have a case. And no one who might have known better told me what my rights were. I believe strongly that he had the potential for violence toward me; he was so out of control I never felt safe with him. At one point I rang his social worker at Mental Health Services to get some help with the situation. She was not interested in helping me, only in protecting the privacy of her client. Somehow though, Richard always ended up finding me. Whether it was my car, my flat or my phone number, he would eventually get it; and I would have to start looking for somewhere to shift to. Flowers came, letters and phone calls. When he encountered a flatmate who would not get me to the phone or the door, he would verbally abuse them. He would question them, to establish the
19

type of relationship they had with me. I am thankful to those flatmates who stood by me. Taking the move to Auckland was a way of getting away. I feared he would track me down anyway, but he never did. I still worry about bumping into him when I am in Wellington visiting. But I know in my head that when I was no longer around he would have had to find someone else to obsess over. That’s just the way that type of people work. Still it doesn’t stop the fear. It’s always there when I am in that city. Even years later and hundreds of hours of therapy later. Moving to Auckland was not simply an escape; my job was a problem too. In Wellington I had been working as a training consultant in a bank. I was in the impossible situation of having two bosses, and one I didn’t get on with. It was time to get out. I found a new job in Auckland but when I got to Auckland the job did not work out. I was working for a well known retail clothing chain that had decided they needed to employ someone to run their staff training. That was fine and seemed just right for me. But training costs money and they didn’t want to spend any money. After six weeks I told them it wasn’t working and that I was giving them the required three weeks notice. They told me to get out of the building within 10 minutes. I never received my final pay. Luckily I had cleaned out my company car before going to work that morning. I suspected that they would throw me out, and had even cleaned out my desk. It didn’t take me long to find another job, but damage had already been done. It had been the second job in a row that hadn’t worked out and I was starting to believe it was my fault. Friends encouraged me to take my case to the Employment Tribunal, to get the money I was owed, but I was scared. Scared that they would win, even though logically I knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. My self-confidence had taken a beating.
20

When the Doctor made his diagnosis of glandular fever, and told me that I would have to take two or three weeks off work, my secure little world began to crumble inwardly some more. I had never been sick for more than a couple of days off work, and the thought of being unwell for weeks was beyond me. My head was pounding, my limbs aching and I was weak and tired. I couldn’t comprehend myself as sick. Still, my aching body took me home to bed. Several weeks later I could feel a change going on within me, a change that no one else could see. I put it down to the glandular fever, but inwardly felt as if I was about to crack. Dave had no idea of what was really going on inside me, but began to see that all was not right. Mindless television that was watched but not taken in. The house a mess, but I didn’t care. Such seemingly trivial things, such as changing the sheets on the bed or cleaning the bathroom, went undone. None of it was noticed and certainly didn’t seem important. I was blind to everything around me I had lost the desire to return to work. To walk out to the letterbox each day was getting harder and harder. It wasn't a physical thing. I was slowly regaining a little of the physical energy I had lost over the previous weeks, but instead it was a fear growing inside me. I was scared to face people - both those I knew and complete strangers. I couldn't understand it, nor could I explain it. What was happening to me? Me? Not wanting to go back to work? Afraid to walk to the gate to collect the day's mail? More and more I found myself wanting to retreat from the people around me. Retreat under the duvet, where it was safe. These were all new thoughts to me.
21

I was a professional, and had loved the challenge of winning a sale, and then arranging, and or conducting the training of staff from a variety of different backgrounds and organizations. I had fed myself on the challenge. Now suddenly the thought of it petrified me. What was happening to me? In a phone conversation with my mother (in Christchurch), I ventured to explain some of what I was starting to experience. Her reply to what I had attempted to explain was that I would be all right once I got back into my work, back into the regular activities of my life. Deep inside me, I wasn't so sure. I wasn't convinced that she had really grasped what I had tried to explain. It was more than that, but how could I make anyone understand? I didn't understand it myself. I returned to work (on a part-time basis at the recommendation of the GP). There were to be no long hours, no late night phone calls, no gym, and generally no racing around living life at the pace I had previously. As I attempted to throw myself back into my work, I quickly discovered that something was definitely wrong. I no longer had the confidence to make the ‘cold calls’ required by the sales aspect of my job. I was expected to make so many calls a day but I was petrified that I would be turned down, and found myself crying over the least little matter. I kept telling myself, I'd get over it … but it wasn't happening. Instead I was getting more and more tearful, less and less confident. Even discussing the day's events with my work mates, or my flatmate, took more courage than I could endure. I was lucky. I worked in a small office with two guys, Roger and Paul, who were great. They supported me in everything and in the time I worked with them, I learnt so much. In some ways Roger was like a mentor to me. I wanted to be able to do the job the way he did. I wanted to be able to sell like he did, and to train people
22

like he did. They stood by me as I tried to get back into work, but it wasn’t enough. Suspecting that life after glandular fever wasn't supposed to be like this, I returned to my GP for answers. Dr Wong was an Asian man, probably in his fifties. Having no doctor in a new city, I had just gone to the closest Medical Centre, and was referred to him. Looking back, I would describe him as an ‘old school’ doctor – one who had the knowledge and would impart what was necessary, but lacked much empathy for his patients. I attempted to explain my symptoms to Dr Wong, and as I did I burst into uncontrollable tears. What was happening to me? That was the question I so desperately wanted an answer to. Dr Wong's answer was to hand me a tissue for my tears, and advise me to ‘give it more time’. Apparently nothing was wrong, and I was just attempting to break back into life too quickly. Walking away from his surgery, I began to think I must have been going crazy, losing my mind. Inside, I knew it was more than what Dr Wong had said, more than my mother had said. The two people to whom I had tried to explain myself, and they couldn’t really see what was happening. Inside I suspected there was something very wrong, yet no one seemed to be able to understand what I was trying to explain. I knew that there must be more answers than Dr Wong had given me but my self-confidence was rapidly disappearing. Perhaps he's right, I thought; and so I attempted to bury what was hurting inside more and more. I carried on trying to get back into work. I tried to get back into my music. I was booked to sing at a women’s conference, but I pulled out at the last minute. In the state I was in there was no way I could go and sing in front of all those women.
23

Some time earlier, I had won a Mystery Escape Weekend, through a work function. It was one of those that you turned up at the airport and the airline would tell you where you were going for the weekend. Dave and I had been looking forward to it for a long time, hoping that we would go somewhere exciting, perhaps Queenstown. We had postponed taking the trip because of various things, including the glandular fever; but finally we were able to plan to go on the last weekend of September 1993. Our wish came true, and early Saturday morning we were on our way to Queenstown. Two weeks previously we had got engaged, and this was the perfect opportunity to celebrate it – far from the cares of every day life. This was to be two wonderful spring days staying in an expensive hotel, driving a rental car, maybe checking out a few wineries and enjoying our selves. Instead, the pressure that had been building up inside of me continued. Our dream weekend became our nightmare. It was as if something that had been building up had snapped, and suddenly I could no longer bury the fears that Dr Wong had promised would go away with time. Not only had it not gone as promised, but it was now hitting me with full force. What was happening to me, I wondered. My self-confidence totally disappeared, and I wanted to pull away from everything around me. There was no enjoyment to be found in any of the adventures we had so looked forward to. I just didn't care. To Dave, it seemed that every time I said anything, it was negative. To me, everything that Dave, or anyone else (including total strangers), said to me was a personal attack. I remember walking through Arrowtown, knowing I should be happy and enjoying myself. Instead I could feel my life falling apart, and as it did I could feel a sense of shutting down. I kept it
24

to myself as much as possible. To say nothing, would avoid being judged as negative, and wrong. Back at the hotel, when Dave asked what was wrong, I finally cracked. I cried and cried. It was beyond me to explain to Dave what was happening to me. I didn't know myself, let alone putting it into words. I cried for what seemed an eternity, and when there were no tears I was silent. How could I adequately explain what was going on inside of me? I felt that I had failed in everything. I hadn't handled glandular fever, I hadn't coped with returning to work, and I was no longer achieving the results expected. I was still only working part-time. I had ruined our ‘perfect weekend’. To top it off I didn't seem to be handling our engagement, and now it seemed I couldn't cope with everyday life. I could see no reason to like myself, and it was totally beyond me as to why Dave would want to marry a failure like me. To Dave, he was suddenly seeing a very broken Catherine, emerging from what he could only assume had been a mask. He wondered whether a good night sleep would fix it. I too, wondered the same. Perhaps having had a good cry, I would wake the next morning and find everything was better. I cried myself to sleep that night. Scared of what I had unleashed, guilty about ruining a nice day. When I woke the next day, things weren't all right. I was still tearful and subdued, but quietly we both hoped and believed that I would ‘snap out of it’. Neither of us had seen anything like it, so all we could assume, was that a few days would fix it. Looking back on my engagement to Dave, it had come about in a round about manner. He had shifted to Auckland to be with me and had temporary work. He was looking for permanent work and
25

had found a job that was advertised for a couple and included accommodation. Both of us were Christians and there was no way that we would consider living together before marriage. We had talked of marriage often, and when he decided to apply for the job he said he had better propose. So he had gone down on his knee and popped the question. Dave didn’t get the job in the end, but we were engaged and happy to be planning a life together. The thought of going to Queenstown seemed wonderful. It had been some years since I had last been there with an ex-boyfriend, Anthony. Tony and I had a wonderful time there, walking, seeing the sights and enjoying being with each other. We had split up about three years ago, but in hindsight I still held feelings for him. Somewhere unconsciously perhaps I wished it was Tony I was there with again. After the weekend in Queenstown with Dave, I continued to attempt to hold my life together, although I took more and more time off work, and in the privacy of my own space I knew I was falling apart. I had never felt anything before like this. In anguish I waited for it to go away in time, as promised by Dr Wong. In the meantime, it was getting harder and harder to function. I would cry for hours over what seemed like nothing. Dave and I were soon realising that a few days were not going to ‘fix’ this. Whatever I was facing was not that simple. All I wanted to do was crawl under a rock, hide under the covers, and hope the world would go away. I could no longer face it. I no longer felt part of the world. The following weekend (after our Queenstown trip) was a visit to Wellington for our engagement party, being put on by one of our closest friends, Amy. I had no idea how I would face the evening. We briefly explained to Amy where we were at, and between her and Dave they got me through the evening. (Actually at that stage
26

I could still use the very convenient excuse of glandular fever to explain my lack of energy.) More social occasions followed the next weekend when Dave's sister got married in Palmerston North. To a lot of the family it was also an opportunity to meet Dave's new fiancée, and I again wondered how I would summon up the energy to cope with it. I have little memory of the occasion now. During the time that followed, Dave continually encouraged me to seek out medical advice, but for me it was too late. My last visit to Dr Wong had put me off doctors. After all, his advice had been to give it more time, but I was starting to feel that I was running out of time. Days dragged on, and nights seemed endless and I went through box after box of tissues, yet my stubbornness stopped me from setting foot in Dr Wong's surgery again. I would not enter a Doctor's surgery until one would listen to me. One who would take time to care and comprehend who I was, and what I was feeling. One who would tell me what was happening to me. But how? A city full of doctors, but there was nothing that could tell me who could answer my questions. Eventually friends who had recently shifted away were able to recommend the GP under whose care they had been, while in Auckland. A recommendation from a friend who was also a doctor had to be a good thing. I became a patient of Paul’s. Paul was to become more than a doctor. To me, he was a confidante, one who seemed never too busy to talk. One who would visit me late at night or on weekends, if necessary. Paul appeared to care about who I was, and believe in me. In the depth of the nightmare, he would carry on believing that an end would come, long after I had given up. It seemed that he was never shocked by my words, and never wanting to rush me out the door.
27

Paul was always there for me. With him, I felt like a person with real needs, not just another faceless patient, but a person with unique and individual needs. He was to fight my enemy on the front-line, long after I had retreated to the seeming safety of under the bed covers. I finally agreed to see Paul for the first time, a few days before Labour Weekend, 1993. That weekend was the wedding of my good friend Rebecca. When I had first come to know Rebecca, she had been coming out of a two-year period of depression. My heart had reached out to her, although looking back, I didn't really understand what had happened to her. I never imagined that Rebecca’s experience would ever be one that I would come to know as life. The day of the wedding arrived, and I felt tattered and destroyed by life. I couldn’t understand happiness. Still, I couldn't bear to miss Rebecca's wedding. In the church everyone was happy and smiling. As Rebecca walked up the aisle, on her father’s arm she beamed with happiness. I couldn't cope. I cried throughout the entire service, but yet again couldn’t understand the reason for the tears. Dave and I decided we couldn't go to the reception. How could I cope with all that happiness when my own world felt so awful? Missing the reception, and not being able to feel the joy of the occasion, was something that would be with me for a long time. How could I be so selfish, I wondered. A nightmare had begun. A nightmare of wondering what was happening to me. Of new, strange thoughts and fears. Nightmares of trying to have people hear what I was attempting to explain, and accept where I was at. A nightmare of wondering where this would end.

28

Chapter 3 – A New Diagnosis
"If there is a hell on earth, it is to be found in a melancholy man's heart." Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

I sat in Paul's surgery for the first time, two days before Rebecca's wedding. I talked, and cried for an hour, as I tried to explain the events of the previous months. By this time I was convinced that I must have been going crazy. I had never felt this way before. Never. It was beyond me to even imagine what was wrong with me, and so the words ‘clinical depression’ came as a bolt out of the blue. How could this be, I wondered. Me? I couldn’t comprehend what this would mean to my life, or to the lives of those around me. I was shocked beyond hearing, as Paul tried to explain what might be ahead for me. I didn’t hear anything he said. My world, my life, my innermost being was falling apart. The person I knew to be me was gone. It was a different person sitting in the doctor’s surgery. The only thought I could hold in my mind was that perhaps finally someone had heard me, acknowledged my pain, and assured me that this was real. I wasn't imagining things. It wasn't something that was to be just left alone and given time, as the previous medical advice had told me. Finally someone had heard me! From that moment on, life changed. I had no idea of what clinical depression really was, or of what had caused it. I was told that it often developed following a viral illness such as glandular fever, yet there could be many other contributing factors also. Anti-depressants were prescribed. I was horrified at the thought of needing to take anti-depressant medication. Surely this can't be me? This sort of thing is for other people. Not me. Thoughts raced through my crazed mind, as I struggled to come to terms
29

with the fact that this was me. I did need medication. Clinical depression was no longer something that was safely out of my world. It was no longer just other people who suffered. I knew that my suffering was real. I took it all as a giant blow to my ego. What’s more I had a new understanding that clinical depression was not just about having a bad day. It was much more than that. It was deeper, darker, longer and more terrible than a bad day. I was in Paul’s office for over an hour. I have no idea of what happened to the other patients waiting to see him. He never once tried to hurry me, never gave me the impression he had other people waiting to see him. He must have, as he was always busy, but by not rushing me he gained my trust. Had this not happened so fast, I don’t know what would have happened. I certainly wouldn’t have stepped inside his office twice. I was suspicious of all doctors, and one step wrong and I would have been out of there fast. A doctor had treated me somewhat inappropriately some years earlier and that left me wary of all doctors. The experience left its scars, and with the indifference I had struck from Dr Wong, I knew that Paul had an up-hill battle in front of him, if I was to learn to trust him. After my first trip to see Paul, came a referral to a specialist. Paul told me that the man he was referring me to was someone he had used before and was highly though of in his field. I hadn't stopped to think just what this specialist's field was, and it came as an enormous shock at the end of my initial appointment. Dr Tait asked many questions. He confirmed Paul's diagnosis, and again attempted to explain what could follow in the days to come. The shock came when he handed me his business card. This man was a psychiatrist! I had just been through what I was later to become very familiar with – a psychiatric assessment.
30

I left his office in shock. I sat in the car for what seemed like forever. Just sitting, trying to take it in. How I managed to eventually drive home is beyond me. It felt as if a ten tonne truck had hit me at full speed. Biochemistry levels in the brain, psychological issues, and treatments had all been explained. But I hadn’t taken all of it in. I had no idea of how this would envelop my life. I was still reeling from the fact that this man was a psychiatrist. The doctors told me that clinical depression (or major depressive disorder) was triggered by the earlier illness, and with the correction of the bio-chemical levels everything should be back to normal. Somehow I knew that depression often followed glandular fever. It seemed okay. This wasn’t about me going crazy, as I had suspected. This would be fixed – and soon. A couple of weeks on medication and everything would be okay. Perhaps this is what I needed to hear. If they had told me at that time that depression could take over my life for so many years, I don’t know how I would have reacted.

31

Chapter 4 – A Rock to Hide Under
"When my heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead me to the mighty, towering Rock of safety. For you are my refuge, a high tower where my enemies can never reach me; ...oh, to be safe beneath the shelter of your wings!" Psalm 61: 2-4 The Living Bible

The diagnosis written, the medication prescribed. I was put on Moclobemide, a relatively new anti-depressant drug. Explanations had been attempted, but I was in no state to contemplate what was ahead. I was still convinced that soon I would be fine. Life and work would be back to normal. This was a bio-chemical matter and that would be fixed easily. I had been told that anti-depressants would take several weeks to start working, and that they worked differently for different people. “We may have to make changes until we get the right one” I was told. Still I was busy thinking of how I could take yet more time off work, and wondering what was happening to my mind. Even more so, wondering how I could admit to anyone that I was depressed, on anti-depressant medication or, even worse, seeing a psychiatrist. I had no problem with anyone else suffering from depression, but now it was me. That was different. It stung! My world had crumbled at my feet, while I wasn't looking. Days were a blur. I ate little. Sleep was fitful. Both days and nights were filled with constant tears. People were too difficult to face – what could I say? Even the telephone became too much of a struggle. All I wanted was to retreat.

32

I desperately wanted to find a rock that I could climb under, to hide … until the storm subsided. A strong, immovable rock. A rock that could protect me from the battering that I was taking. Most people to whom I dared to admit my longing found my thinking strange. “You would usually climb onto a rock, not under it,” was what I was told. But to me, I needed a rock I could climb under to hide from the world. I retreated to bed, under the duvet and there, under what became my rock, I would stay for hours at a time. Crying. Sometimes, just quiet and totally motionless. Desperately wondering what had happened, and when would it end. As I hid under my rock, I thought I would be protected until the medication could do its job. I would just stay there until it felt safe, only coming out when absolutely necessary. But I had misjudged the illness. I thought I had reached rock bottom. It's funny how you can think that you're right at the bottom of a cliff, sure that there is no chance of falling any further. You almost heave a sigh of relief that the out of control falling is over. All you need to do now is to climb back up, or somehow get rescued … but suddenly find yourself tumbling even further down. Further and further down. What you thought was the rock solid bottom was only a narrow ledge, which eventually gave way. As long as I stayed safe under my rock each day, I was sure that I would get better and better. Instead, I got worse. It seemed that each day the world turned darker. Trapped by my own expectations and what I believed were those of others, I found myself thinking the only way out was to die. To kill myself had to be the only means of escape. In spite of my horror and my fear of admitting it to anyone, the thoughts came more and more frequently.

33

I was horrified to be thinking like that. It had never occurred to me that I could become suicidal. Other people could reach that point, but for me, life would never be that bad. Even if life got really bad, I had mostly considered suicide to be a coward's way. Anyway suicide was wrong, I was told in church. About five years earlier, I had been working in a high rise building in downtown Wellington. One morning a young teenage girl jumped off the building across the road, and killed herself. The building I worked in had floor to ceiling glass all around, and many of my workmates had witnessed the entire fall. I was running late for a meeting that morning, and otherwise would also have witnessed her fall. Later I was to learn that she had been a student of a friend of mine. She was someone who had appeared happy, and successful. No one thought she would ever do that. No one realised what was really happening inside. It was my first inkling that suicide wasn't a coward's way out of life, but was rather an indication of just how desperate, lonely, and black life could become. My only other personal encounter with the suicide at that stage had been the talk and actions of my first boyfriend, James (the other man who stalked me). After I had broken off our short relationship he had purposely ridden his motorbike into power poles or concrete walls on several occasions; and then at one point he got to the stage of loading a gun to use it on himself. I was only fifteen (a fairly naïve fifteen) and it was the start of a long battle to get him to leave me alone. One night several months after we had split up, he got me to his house saying he needed to talk to me. I shouldn’t have been so naïve. I should have refused to see him but I thought I was being a good caring Christian, ready to listen. James hadn’t taken our break up very well and he wanted to talk about it. He handed me a gun he had just loaded and asked me to pull the trigger. I was really shocked
34

and frightened. He wanted me to kill him! I had no idea what to do and we were alone in the house. I reacted by running out of the house and running home, as James followed me on his motorbike trying to get me to stop. I never told anyone what had happened. I couldn’t. Having seen only a tiny glimpse of suicidal thoughts in others, I had continued to believe that I was different. I was a Christian. I would never reach that low. Except now I was! Now I was becoming more and more certain that it could be my only way of dealing with what had become a terrible nightmare. An awful nightmare that seemed to have no end. My only answer was to dig deeper under the duvet and not admit my new thoughts to anyone. How could I feel the way I did? How could a Christian, outwardly seeming to have everything to live for, want to die? How could I promise to marry Dave, when the thoughts of death were nearer to the forefront of my mind? What would my parents say? What would my family and friends think of me, if they knew? What was happening? Why was it happening? Why me? When would it be over? The questions and the judgments plagued my mind. I was sure that I was rapidly losing my mind. As a committed Christian I read and studied my Bible a lot. There were verses that I really believed God had put in front of me for a purpose. One was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”(NIV). How on earth did this type of promise from God fit in with how I was feeling now? It seemed that everything I was reading was opposite to what I was experiencing.

35

A week after initially seeing the psychiatrist, I had another appointment with Paul. This time Dave wanted to come too, but I was afraid. Afraid of admitting my feelings to an impartial doctor, let alone of fearing for Dave having to hear what was really happening inside of me. I had never had thoughts like this before and wondered, with great fear, how a doctor would respond. Would I be locked away? Would admitting my darkest thoughts be a one-way ticket to a psych ward? Paul (and Dave) heard it all. Dave came away shocked, scared and hurt. What was happening to the woman he loved, the woman he intended to marry in a few months time? Where had she gone? But it felt good to be able to tell Paul what I was thinking. I was so scared of what he might do because of what I said, but he just listened. He didn't assume to know how I felt, but showed me that he cared. He seemed to accept my thoughts for what they were, without judging them right or wrong. After that, I had to ring Paul every day. Each day at 12.30pm I would phone and he would briefly monitor my condition, my state of mind. He always listened, never judged. It was the only reason that I felt able to continue to phone him, and to continue to talk. I desperately needed him to accept what I was saying, and where I was at. I know now that 12.30pm was Paul’s lunch break, but he used that time for me. Things got worse. And as they did more issues arose. Insomnia, lack of appetite, agoraphobia, anxiety, and tearfulness… the list went on. Things I had always taken for granted were now beyond me. Making a cup of tea, driving the car, walking to the letterbox, was all too much. To contemplate going to the supermarket, or a place filled with people was my worst nightmare. It was beyond my comprehension, but I couldn't handle people or space. Facing those places was like living a nightmare. It seemed like there were people coming at me from all angles. I couldn’t make
36

decisions. Apricot or berry yoghurt? Beef or lamb? It was way beyond me. Many times I abandoned a half filled trolley of groceries, because I could no longer handle the situation. I desperately needed to be on my own, under my own safe rock. I went out only to see Paul; otherwise I was at home. When anti-depressant medication was prescribed, I was under the impression that I just had to wait until the dosage was right, and that it started to work. I had been told that anti-depressant drugs work differently for different people, but I had no idea of the cocktail of drugs that would be prescribed over the coming months and years. The other impression I had was that the drugs would fix the problem. It was just a matter of using drugs to correct the biochemical levels in my brain, and then things would be back to normal. I’m not sure whether that was actually what I was told, or whether it was the only part of what I was told that I dared to hear. I could cope with chemical reasons for the illness but not the suggestion of psychological reasons. As I continued to hide under the safety of my duvet, battles started to rage. There were two battles that I hadn’t really counted on. They both had me digging further under the rock for shelter, for safety. The first battle was that of the side effects from the anti-depressant medication. Over the coming months, different types of medication were prescribed, in an effort to find one that would work. When a period had elapsed, allowing for the drug to start taking affect, a judgement was made of whether it would be ultimately effective. Usually what happened was that either the medication was changed completely, or another drug was added to my daily intake, in order to make the first work. It became very confusing, to say the least – but more so was incredibly
37

frustrating. I tried everything – the older tricyclics, MAOI medications and the newer SSRI’s (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors). There were tranquillisers, mood stabilizers, benzodiazepines and anti-psychotic medications as well as the anti-depressants. Each change brought new side effects. Some, I was warned of but others came totally out of the blue. I remember thinking that hand tremors, and a slightly dry mouth would be easy to handle. No problem, if it meant easing the depression. After weeks though, it would become a problem. And after years my teeth are wrecked because of the dry mouth. Signing my name was made difficult because of the tremors. There were also dizzy spells, headaches, nausea, loss of balance, constipation, diarrhoea, weight gain, weight loss, sleep disturbance, loss of memory and more. All of these affected me in different ways, and were in addition to the original symptoms of depression. There were times when, even if I could have summoned the confidence to face getting in a car and driving, I knew that the disturbed sense of balance would make me unsafe on the road. My appetite had gone with the onset of depression, yet at times there was unexplained weight gain, which just made me feel worse. Despite hardly eating anything, I was heavier than I had ever been. Only a few months earlier, and on different medication I was lighter than ever. Of all the side effects the loss of memory affected me the most. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t remembering things that I should have. Even when I realised there was something wrong, it took a long time to feel like doctors and friends were taking me seriously. The attitude of doctors tended to be that memory disturbance was just a symptom of depression, and a side effect of some forms of treatment. I knew that too, but this seemed to me like more than that. As for friends, they tended to trivialise my memory loss by attributing it to age (I was only 29 at the time) and
38

the like. I felt totally misheard. I knew there was something wrong, yet no one seemed to want to know. There were two battles forcing me further under the duvet though. The second was that of fighting off other people’s opinions. Suddenly it seemed as if I was expected to be an ‘open book’ and everyone had what they regarded to be an ‘expert’ opinion on what I should be doing, how I should be feeling, and what (if any) drugs I should be taking. It seemed that everyone had someone they knew who had been through the same thing as I was going through. Well if that was true, then they didn’t show they had learnt much. Close friendships became threatened as opinions and judgments were sometimes carelessly made. Everyone seemed to think they had a right to say what they thought I should do, and at the same time I was particularly sensitive to anything people had to say. Dave did a good job in trying to protect me from these attitudes. At times he would keep them from me. He would make excuses for me. I still needed my rock to hide under but Dave did what he could. Try as he might, he couldn’t keep every opinion from me. At one point some close friends sent me a book about why Christians shouldn’t use psychology. They had wrapped the book in plain paper to cover the title and enclosed a 12-page letter to be read first, telling me why I should take notice of what was being said in the book. I have never read the book, and today, years later it remains unread. Without psychology I doubt I would be alive. Repeatedly I was told that opinions were being given ‘out of love and care’ for me, as if that made it all right. But it didn’t make it all right. It made me feel even more alone, condemned and afraid. My confidence already torn to shreds, I had no idea what to think, and so I did all I could manage – dig deeper under the rock.

39

Chapter 5 – No Stone Left Unturned
“We can no more prevent a thought returning to the mind than we can prevent the sea rising on the foreshore Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Moving to my parents’ home in Christchurch seemed the obvious answer to easing the financial pressure I was feeling. It was a hard decision to make. Moving there would ease the finances, but there were many other factors. Dave had only just moved to Auckland, and I needed to have him near me. I had never had a particularly close relationship with my mother, and much as I loved her, I wasn’t sure how living together again would go. Going to Christchurch (even if it were only for a couple of weeks – as I still thought it would be until I was better) also meant finding another doctor. How could I bear to explain things all over again? On top of the financial pressure of not being able to work, there were problems in my flat. My flatmate, who owned the house we were living in, didn’t like Dave being around. Her rules were strict. Dave wasn’t allowed in my bedroom, and wasn’t even allowed to stay in our spare room. It wasn’t even as if we were having sex, as we were sticking to our Christian beliefs of no sex before marriage. Part of it, I am sure, was envy. Dee did everything to make Dave feel uncomfortable and unwanted. Also Dee couldn’t handle my illness. We were both professional career women and she didn’t want a flatmate who was anything else. Eventually I had to move out. I gave her a week’s notice but left the next day. I couldn’t bear to stay any longer. I went to stay with family friends on the North Shore. My brother Steve came up from Palmerston North to help. He was wonderful. I have no idea how it happened but somehow he and Dave packed up my belongings and shifted me. I arrived at my next home with just a suitcase.
40

I doubt Gerald and Anna, with whom I was staying, had much idea of how bad I was feeling. I felt safe with them, but also overwhelmingly embarrassed. How could I be so pathetic? How could I feel so bad? With Steve staying there as well I tended to hide behind him. He would do all the talking – I had nothing to say. During that time I was phoning Paul every day. I would phone him at 12.30pm and would cry. I didn’t know what else to say. At one stage Steve took me to see Paul, just waiting outside until I had finished. On several occasions when I have tried to thank Steve for such support, he has simply replied that it is what brothers do. I’m not sure about that. I think both my brothers went way beyond what many others would do. A week later I left for Christchurch. Once in Christchurch, I was referred to Barry, who I discovered to be another psychiatrist, not a GP. In spite of my fear, he was incredibly supportive and understanding. After much talking, Barry decided to alter the medication I had been prescribed. Actually I had only been on the initial drug for two weeks, hardly long enough for it to start working, but he decided anyway that it wasn’t going to work. He explained that there were different types of anti-depressants, and that another type would suit me better. As I was to discover over time, all doctors tend to have their preferred drugs and this was the first of several examples of this. Sent away with a new prescription, along with a list of what I could expect as side effects, Barry also referred me to a local GP, and to a psychotherapist. My first question was, what is a psychotherapist? Unspoken questions included, where is the couch that the movies all portray in the office of the ‘shrink’. In spite of what is suggested by the media, and to my relief, it was years before I discovered that
41

couch. And when I struck one, there was no pressure to use it. I always opted for the chair. Psychotherapy, I was told, would tackle the psychological side of the illness. Establishing a relationship with a psychotherapist, someone I could trust totally, would over time, apparently enable me to explore and tackle the psychological aspects affecting me. Initially the talk of psychological issues meant little to me. I had no idea what those issues could be, and until now had believed my illness to be purely biological – caused by the glandular fever. From memory, none of the doctors I had seen to date had made any mention of psychological issues. Perhaps it had been said, but I certainly never heard it. It seemed that there was nothing particularly traumatic that had happened in my life, from my perspective (or that of my family). Anything that had happened had been firmly hidden away. It didn’t occur to me that the prolonged stalking, by James and Richard, could be an issue. I thought that now I had left the city where the stalking happened that it would be the end of its effect on me. I couldn’t imagine anything psychologically amiss, but suddenly I was being told that there were matters to resolve. I wondered how I would discover just what those matters were. I could see nothing wrong. I just had to trust Barry in what he was recommending. I found that incredibly hard to do ... but then what choice was there? I knew I needed help. Author Sue Atkinson (1993)1., a woman who wrote about her depression wrote of needing masses of hugs and words of comfort, even more than the medication. I knew I needed those million hugs, and the million words of reassurance. With time, I would learn that I also needed those million hours to talk, to cry, to understand, and to begin to believe those words of reassurance.

42

What’s more I needed someone who could listen impartially, someone who wasn’t personally affected by my illness or the changes that were happening. I needed someone trained to guide me on a path of discovering, and managing those psychological issues. I needed someone who would be there for me no matter what. That was the role that, over time, the psychotherapist adopted in my life. Over the following years several different people took on this role. Changes were necessary for a variety of reasons, but each change was incredibly hard. The psychotherapist was someone with whom I bared my darkest thoughts, fears and secrets. That which I could never contemplate sharing with anyone else was safely shared. Not that it was easy. Far from it. It took me a long time to trust anyone, and even once I trusted them it was painfully hard to talk about my feelings. The person would not be shocked by what I said, would not judge, and was not personally affected by what I said. It was someone who would eventually lead me to take the steps necessary to correct those psychological matters that I had believed did not exist. I was so much in denial about there being any psychological issues to deal with. It’s hard to imagine now how I could think nothing had happened in my life, but I was so closed off to my feelings. That had started at a young age and had been reinforced right through my life. My parents were not ones to share their own feelings and I quickly learnt to follow suit. It was a vicious cycle. Right from the start they did not want to push me into sharing and so waited for me to share. I remember Mum telling me that she could never ask me how my day was when I came home from school, as I would just say nothing. So she gave up asking and would just wait for me to tell her. I had somehow shut myself off from any inquiry. I don’t know why. I do know that my parents reaction to that, taught me
43

the wrong lesson. I didn’t think they were interested so that’s why I didn’t say anything. My father had come from a family environment where he was constantly questioned about everything. Both he and my mother reacted to that and so didn’t want to push my brothers and me into talking if we didn’t want to. But I have to question why I didn’t want to talk. What had I already learnt? My mother’s family was different, but I think her mother was quite unemotional and so little was talked of when it came to feelings. We are, to a large part, a product of previous generations before us. But my conclusion to my parents’ silence was that they were not interested in me. Psychotherapy for me was about learning to undo what I had learnt both as a child and an adult, and face life as an adult. When I started psychotherapy, my therapist Matthew encouraged me to start keeping a journal. This turned out to be an excellent idea. Somewhere I could write down everything, all my thoughts and fears. In time I learnt to write about my feelings too. This wasn’t something that came easily. I had never really looked at my feelings. “Matthew suggested that I start keeping a journal. Today has been quiet. Dave is still in Nelson and I have to say that I’m okay about that. It scares me that I’m okay about it. He is missing me ... but I’m not missing him. He keeps telling me how he is really looking forward to marrying me and is more and more confident of it being right. I only wish I felt like that.” “I love him yet I feel relief when he leaves. I do love him. It’s like we’ve always been together. It’s hard to imagine life without Dave, except I’m scared of life with him. I think I should break off the engagement.”
44

What I wrote in my journal about my feelings toward Dave and engagement and marriage should have been a loud warning bell for me. Something was definitely wrong here. “I can’t help thinking that Dad has missed the point. He’s so wrapped up in how great his daughter is, and how proud of her he is. But he’s missed seeing a daughter who sees suicide as her only escape from this crazy life!” “It’s a classic situation of how everyone has their own opinions on what I should do, and I find myself thinking that they must be right… but what they think isn’t what I want. The real issue for me is that I don’t believe in myself. The significant people in my life all have their ideas of what is right for me. Because I don’t believe that my ideas are valid, I assume that they must be right. Only problem is that I’m scared of what their ideas for me may be. It’s a trap! Very confusing trap, but very real!” “I think I can sum up what the real issue is for me: I don’t believe in myself!” The more I wrote the more I felt lost. Totally alone. There was no one who really understood. Between twice-weekly visits to Matthew, my journal was my only friend. Living with my parents was not easy. Not easy for them either. It seemed that they couldn’t do anything right. Everything they said was wrong for me. I felt totally misunderstood. My writing and my thoughts show how alone and crazed I was feeling at the time. Our wedding was to be in Christchurch on 12 February 1994. I had managed to find a dress, which didn’t really suit me. But as far as I was concerned, it was a dress and that was all that mattered. I was also rapidly losing weight as I was hardly eating anything, so it probably no longer fitted. But I didn’t care.

45

Six weeks before the wedding day Barry talked me into delaying the occasion. I had been having doubts about my ability to go through with it, but I just put my head down and pretended that the show must go on. One afternoon on the way to see Barry I stopped to post out the wedding invitations. I knew that he might convince me to delay, but posting the invitations was my way of making sure I couldn’t back out now. Once I arrived for my appointment, Barry talked about the wedding and how I was. He said that if I went ahead with the wedding, he would end up putting me in a psych hospital. To me that was the straw that broke my back. I couldn’t do that. He couldn’t put me in there. There was no way I could face being admitted to a psych hospital. We postponed the wedding. It was hard for Dave, our families and our friends to understand. I agreed to postpone for several reasons. Firstly I was not able to cope with the stress of wedding preparations and doubted that I would be in a position to enjoy the day. I felt like I had been living my life to the beat of other people’s drums and I knew I had to learn to walk to the sound of my own. That meant I had to work out whether I wanted to marry Dave, or whether I was marrying because other people wanted me to. I knew enough by then to know that by the time I’d gone through this depression, I would be different. How would I change? And lastly I was incredibly afraid of failing and letting Dave see all my ugliness. Writing to everyone who had been sent an invitation was hard. There was no new date for the wedding, and I had no idea when, and if it would happen. I felt very foolish, although most people were very understanding. “I know I wouldn’t be the first to break off an engagement but … I can’t see a way out … except to end it all. A funeral instead of a wedding!”

46

“I wonder whether my thoughts re marriage are just symptomatic of other issues or are they real? If they are real, and I do break off the engagement, what will happen to me? Will I ever marry? Will I have the will to live beyond it? Will Mum’s threat of being a ‘lonely, old spinster’ come true?” “I need someone to say ‘It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. It’s okay to be you.’ ” “Everyone is running around saying ‘Happy New Year’, but I can’t take it! What’s so happy about it? I was saved from Mum’s usual phrase but Dave got it: “Well I’m sure 1994 will be much better than this past year has been for you two.” Oh sure! I’m scared of losing the little that I have left.” “It amazes me how badly I cope with the simplest of things.” “I’m really struggling! It’s well covered up – no one suspects, I’m sure. But it’s there. I’m so confused and with thoughts racing, I’m scared and I need so much to be able to stop and sort it out. Understand how to live. In some ways I feel like a rebel without a cause. A rebel because I’m not acting the way I’m meant to. A rebel because I’m upsetting their smooth sailing world! Without a cause because there are so many thoughts that I struggle to keep track of. In reality there is a cause, but there are many causes and they’re twisted and confused. I so much want to yell and scream what is bothering me, but I don’t trust Mum and Dad (or Dave) to actually listen and hear what I’m saying. I feel like I must have it all wrong. I must have over-reacted, misunderstood, it’s not that bad – but it is. Can’t someone hear and acknowledge my feelings as real?” “While partly I worry that they may not like who I am, it’s more that I afraid to tell them who I am, because if I tell them who I am, they may tell me I’m wrong or tell me that I’ve got it all out of
47

perspective… Why can’t we talk about how I feel, how Dave feels, how they feel?” “Feeling very strange still! Like I’m locked into my own world, a million miles from anyone. … It seems to me that I have nothing. No where to go back to, no job, and I wonder what will become of Dave and me.” “I find it easier to be alone than to be with him. He keeps telling me how much he loves me, but I’m scared of that. I’m scared of him loving me too much.” In January I went back to Auckland for a week. I stayed in the spare room at Dave’s new flat. I felt strange. I no longer knew how to be around people. The normal, everyday things were too hard. “Bumped into Julie today – just as I was hoping that I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. I escaped as soon as I could from the ‘when’s the wedding?’ and ‘what sort of medication are you on?’ type questions. Nosey bitch! Why do people think they have the right to ask such things?” “Read a magazine article tonight that said that Stephanie committed suicide. I never knew the cause of her death. The newspaper just said ‘after a long illness’. I wish I knew before. Part of me says well if Steph can do it then why can’t I? Why do I have to continue to battle!” This wasn’t the first suicide that had affected my life, but for some reason it really stuck out. Perhaps because at school she seemed like the ultimate popular girl. It was also the first suicide of someone I knew that had happened while I was suicidal myself. Later I found out that she had spent time at Ashburn Clinic. But at the start all I knew was that she suffered from depression like me.
48

Was her way of solving the depression the only way that it would work? I didn’t know, but I suspected so. “He kisses me and I feel trapped – need to struggle and pull away. It’s like he’s physically suffocating me. I don’t understand it but the feeling comes often.” “I couldn’t decide what to wear today or what CD to put on. Again it seemed like the smallest decision required too much from me.” “Rebecca talked today about Satan's attack and I wondered whether my feelings are caused by Satan. She told me she had prayer for healing and it cured her depression. Is it really that easy?” “Yesterday was the pits. Essentially a night of no sleep – feeling sicker than I thought possible. Firstly stomach cramps and then feverish shivering. I knew that if I tried to get out of bed, I’d fall over. Having earlier thought I’d rather be dead than continuing to live this life, I wondered whether God was answering my cry.” The pain of that night was self-inflicted. I had earlier swallowed handfuls of laxatives. My eating had gone down hill rapidly when I got glandular fever. I’d lost weight and I liked it. Now whatever food I ate, no matter how little, it was followed by a handful of laxatives. That way I could get rid of the food. The empty feeling left after they had done their work was so intoxicating. I loved it. The pain didn’t matter. Getting rid of the food was getting rid of my feelings too. It was a relief. Back in Christchurch after my week in Auckland, nothing had changed. Life was still just as much of a struggle as ever. “Mum commented that she liked the way I had my hair done today better than how I usually have it done. I think that perhaps it was
49

an attempt at a compliment but I just read that she doesn’t like how I usually have it.” It’s like everything anyone, but particularly my parents, said to me was a criticism. I was just waiting to be put down. And it didn’t matter how much they tried to tell me that they loved me. I couldn’t hear it. “Damn it, I’m pissed off! Probably with myself more than anyone. I saw Matthew today and we talked about my fears re the wedding and my plan to marry Dave. I keep thinking I need time out to re-build my life without the pressure to set another date. Matthew suggested that perhaps I need to take a year out and at the end of that time to determine whether I would still marry Dave. But the more I think about that and the consequences of such action, the angrier I am at being in this position. I won’t do it! “It’s frustrating! I so much want to die, get out of this terrible situation and leave everyone to get on with their lives. Sometimes I wonder what it will be like when I’m gone. How will Dave cope and how will my family deal with it. I wonder if my family will talk to each other about it, or will they just pretend it never happened. Their lives will never be the same – but then maybe after the hurting, they’ll be better off without me.” The problem with mental illness is that you don’t get steadily better from the day you start taking medication. There isn’t a gradual improvement that you can use to say ‘today is better than yesterday’. It just doesn’t happen that way. Instead one day is okay, nearly bearable, but the next is totally intolerable. It only took the slightest little thing for my day to be turned upside down. I had no faith in my ability to get well, but hung on every word of other people.

50

“Dave says he’s scared that we’ll never get married and that I might never recover!! I get scared of that too but … if he can’t believe in me getting better then who can? I feel betrayed! I thought he believed in me. What on earth is the point in looking to him for support when he doesn’t think I’ll make it? I so much need him to believe in me. There is no one else. I just feel like everything has gone. I think I should break off the engagement. How can I marry him when he doesn’t think I’ll make it? I don’t think he has any idea. He thinks that one day I’ll wake up and be back to my old self, but what I say is of no consequence. Like I don’t know what I’m talking about. So I am crazy, and Dave won’t listen to anything unless the doctor says it.” “Mum tells me that they’re concerned that I don’t have any fight in me. I sit and do nothing. I wonder if she means that I don’t go to church.” “They have noticed that I haven’t had a good weekend and wonder why. I thought about telling them that I think Dave and I will split up soon, but think better of it. I don’t want to be told ‘things can’t be that bad’ (one of Mum’s favourites) or ‘just give it time’ or other clichés. I feel so alone. Sure, I have Amy and I have Craig, Steve and Clare but they’re not here, are they? I feel so cut off from what is real.” “This afternoon I tried to tell them that I feel like they analyse everything I do or say. They were quick to deny it, but I don’t think they heard me when I said ‘that’s how it feels’. I felt very wrong. They were telling me off for how I feel.” I feel like Mum and Dad want to strip off all my defences but they don’t know how to deal with the pieces left behind. And I am so desperately trying to hold the pieces together because I couldn’t bear the blinding light of nakedness. Mum said that they feel I’ve given up fighting, given up taking on a challenge. Well, I think she’s right. I really don’t care now whether I live or die.”
51

“I feel tormented and harassed! I just want to stop the world and get off. I’m tired! I’m tired of fighting this! I just want to stop. I feel like I’m shutting down. It’s beaten me, but it still won’t let me go.” “Matthew pointed out to me that I haven’t given up the fight. I’m still alive!! I do still take on challenges, but my challenge is different – my challenge is to make it through each day. I nearly didn’t make it today.” I think that if you haven’t suffered with something like depression then it is impossible to understand this. Most people have bad days. Bad things happen at some stage. But for most, the day turns into a new, better day and they can go on. It’s not like that though, with depression. “At one stage Mum made a comment about all the other people they help. I said that I’m not one of their parishioners to which Mum said that the parishioners were easier to handle. They would at least talk. But that’s the difference. I’m their daughter, not just another person in need of help!” John Powell wrote: “If there is no one who understands me, and who accepts me for what I am, I will feel estranged. My talents and possessions will not comfort me at all… I will experience a kind of solitary confinement…”2. I felt so misunderstood. Nothing I could say made any sense to anyone. I felt like I was truly losing my mind. It seemed that whatever I said or felt was explained away. Of no significance. It meant nothing. Time after time this thinking was the result of interactions with those around me. Eventually I decided to go back to Auckland. I couldn’t hide out at my parents place forever. It had been two months and it had
52

been hard. I wasn’t used to living with my parents, and the distance from Dave was making it hard to be close. In some ways the distance suited me but I knew that if I was going to marry this man, we needed to sort things out. In spite of heading back to Auckland I had this image in my mind that I would leave Christchurch but never arrive in Auckland. I didn’t dare tell anyone, although Matthew eventually got it out of me. “I told Matthew about the picture I had of leaving Christchurch and never arriving in Auckland, and I think I wanted him to take it away… but he didn’t. He just listened. He just listened to all the crazy things I said today” “I’m going home tomorrow but it’s not home any more. I don’t feel like I have a home. Anywhere is uncomfortable, stressed and strange. I don’t want to stay but I don’t want to go to Auckland either. It’s a really weird feeling! It’s like my world is going to end tomorrow.” Notes

1.

Atkinson, Sue, 1993, Climbing Out Of Depression, Lion Publishing. 2. Powell, John, 1969, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Argus Communications. p.95-97

53

Chapter 6 – A Fresh Start
“What we call the beginning is often the end, And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T S Eliot.

“Well, I made it, and while there were a few anxious moments, it went okay. It really feels like I have cut off from Mum and Dad, and while that might not be altogether healthy, I feel better for it. Still I do struggle at times and it is like I click in and out of my environment as necessary.” This clicking in and out of my environment happened regularly. Apparently it’s something everyone does to some extent. When you’re driving down the road and suddenly realise you can’t remember whether the light was green or red, you’re doing the same thing. It’s called dissociation, so I was often told. It’s quite normal apparently. That is, until you’re doing it all the time to avoid feeling. That’s what I was doing constantly. In a room full of people I would look like I was just staring into the distance. What I was doing though was switching off, clicking out. I learnt to do it so easily. It was my way of coping. My first memory of doing this was Sunday lunch times at the dinner table after church. The family conversation was always about church, the service, and the people there. I hated these conversations and so would click out of them. I’m not sure what I hated, but I did and I still do. Now I feel so out of it, as I’m not a part of church so I’m not a part of the conversations. Then, why did I have it? I don’t know. What made me learn that way of coping? “I’m scared of the expectation to find a job. I feel guilty - like I’m ripping off Work and Income, like I don’t deserve my benefit. I’m
54

forever feeling like a fraud, like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m taking everyone for a ride.” “Taking myself away from Christchurch may have lessened the extreme desperation I felt, but it hasn’t totally removed it. Today I found myself thinking about death and of killing myself. I was straight up when I talked to Paul about how I was feeling. That surprises me. He heard everything. Yet I still struggle to hear myself voicing my thoughts.” Arriving back in Auckland meant lots of changes. My job was well and truly gone – they couldn’t wait for me any longer. I had nowhere to live and my wedding was on hold. I thought that coming back would mean starting over, getting better, having a fresh start. It felt good to be away from my parents but it didn’t feel so good being where I was. I had organised to board with a family. Should I say, Dave had organised it for me. I just wasn’t up to flatting but I wasn’t sure how this boarding thing would go. I had never boarded and I felt like an intruder in their family life. The family I boarded with were lovely. They had two adult children still at home and I got on with them well. They all accepted me into their home. I found out much later that they had little idea of what was going on in my mind at the time, nor why I wasn’t working. Dave had told them nothing except that I need somewhere to stay. Had they known, would they have opened their home to me? I don’t know but they deserved to know more than they did. They deserved to know how close to suicide I was, and how physically unwell I had become because of my low body weight. I am embarrassed about it now. I just assumed they knew, so I never raised it with them. Dave had moved into a flat about 20 minutes drive away. That became my second home. There were times when I would go
55

there to hide from the world. Thankfully his flatmate was very easy going and had no problems about me being there. I know that I spent a lot of time putting on a brave face. I felt very broken inside but few people, if any, saw just how bad I felt. I felt like such a fraud and so I couldn’t let anyone see it. Even with Paul, I managed to talk abstractly about my feelings. I could detach from them and talk about them as if they were someone else’s feelings. My ability to do this made it hard for other people to see how I really was. During this time I was searching for a sign from God that to kill myself would be okay. I knew that Christians regarded suicide as a major sin, but I searched and searched for something that would tell me it would be okay. I didn’t ask anyone else for their views, as I feared the consequences. What would happen if they knew? I searched Christian bookshops for answers and found nothing. There were lots of books about people coping with the aftermath of suicide. But I could find nothing for the one who was contemplating it. I could have done with Susan Blauner’s (2002)1. book on suicide prevention. The only thing I learnt from searching the books available was that an overdose of the right anti-depressants would kill me. The only problem was that I knew Paul was limiting how many he let me have at a time – I as picking up my medication once a week. I hated the limitation. I hated it because it restricted what I could do. I hated going into the pharmacy to collect my med’s each week. I felt like they were looking at me knowing I couldn’t be trusted. I would line up with the rest of the untrustworthy people to collect my small packets. I guess they knew exactly why I had to do this – I couldn’t be trusted. Shortly after arriving back in Auckland I began the search for a new psychiatrist and psychotherapist. This became one big
56

headache, and unfortunately I repeated the process many times, telling ‘my story’ over and over again. Paul would refer me to someone. Then I would tell my story so that they could make their own diagnosis. Sometimes this took hours over a matter of weeks, and I seemed to get nothing from it. I’d get upset but there was nothing in it for me. At the end of each assessment I would just have to go home and try to pick up the pieces. When I began to see Dr Randall my medication was changed yet again. This time I was to try the new wonder drug Prozac. Surely this would work. I had tried the older tricyclics, with three different ones tried within four months. Now I was to try the new SSRI’s. Yet again I was told that I could expect it to take about two weeks to hit in and in the meantime I may get worse. Great! Having found Dr Randall to be my psychiatrist, the next task was to find a therapist. Not so easy. I told my story to several before Paul finally put me onto the right one. Paul encouraged me to keep searching for the right person. I so much needed to hear that, because I was sick of it all. I just couldn’t see the point. To me, as long as he was there, what was the problem? He was my GP but I think I unrealistically wanted him to do the job of psychiatrist and therapist as well. I trusted him and didn’t want to risk getting hurt by anyone else. But of course, he couldn’t do that, nor was he trained for the task. The psychological issues relating to mental illness were a minefield. To begin with, each person working within the medical and psychological fields had their own views. Each had their own favoured theories. Each had their own way of approaching issues. Each had their own personality, personal values and beliefs with which the patient must develop rapport and trust. It took me a long time to work this out. During my time of seeing psychotherapists on an individual basis (as opposed to group therapy) the personalities and backgrounds
57

of those people made an enormous difference to how I approached and handled issues as they came up. While the first two therapists I saw (over the first year) were both men, I later realised that many of the issues I was facing made it better (or perhaps easier) for me to have a female therapist. And so, while some progress was made with both men, a woman gave a helpful perspective to matters. That said, I later returned to working with men. The further I went with my therapy the less it mattered. I certainly found it harder to admit some feelings to a man, but, at times, that’s what I needed. There were difficulties with both, advantages with both. Overall I think that I had the right gender, at different times across the years. There was only one I wouldn’t go back to, and that was because he worked more as a counsellor than a psychotherapist - he told me what to do, he didn’t let me work it out with him. Being told what to do was the last thing I needed, and I was also the type of person who if told to do something would generally do the opposite. On top of the individual nature and beliefs of the therapist (and indeed any health professional), is the uniqueness of each patient. As each human being is different, each experience of mental illness is different. My illness could not be treated exactly as that of the previous patient, and my reaction to that treatment would not be the same either. Psychotherapy has been described as many things. For me, it has been someone there for me. Someone who prodded me to look harder, to dig deeper and to feel my pain. It didn’t necessarily make things better. Most of the time, it just seemed like it was making things worse, more painful. At times I hated it. I felt like an onion whose layers were been stripped off. I feared that nothing would be left, but I hadn’t stopped to realise that an onion grows from the inside, and so that if the timing was right, then there would always be more layers. Through psychotherapy I have discovered many fears and secrets, but I have also discovered who I am. What made me, and what enables me to keep going.
58

“Dr Randall encouraged me yesterday not to make any major decisions at the moment, especially about my relationship with Dave. That needs to be put on hold until I’m better. I know she’s right, as I may feel totally different once I’m better.” In the middle of all this came the day that we were supposed to get married – 12 February 1994. Dave and I both knew that this would be a hard day and so we decided to go to Taupo for a few days away from everything. “I’m now in Taupo, supposedly away from the world watching me as I face tomorrow. I’m not sure I want to spend tomorrow with Dave but then I have to remember that he has disappointments too. This afternoon before we left a big bunch of flowers arrived from friends in Wellington. It was really nice of them! But it was a sudden reminder of what could have been. I felt crushed by it, grieving for what was lost. I cried and cried for ages, and tonight I still feel very sad.” “It’s been and gone. I struggled not to think of what could have been but still thought about being at Huka Falls at the time I would have been walking down the aisle. I was glad to be away from people but would have preferred to be totally alone. I just wanted to be in my own world.” “Tonight Dave told me that he’s scared he’ll lose me. He thinks I’ll pull out of the relationship because I’ve had enough of it. I wouldn’t pull out because I’d had enough, but I would pull out if I decided that it was wrong to continue.” Back in Auckland people were starting to express concern about my weight. Every time I saw Dr Randall she put me on the scales. Constantly she told me I needed to put on weight. I felt scared of her, but not enough to do anything about it.
59

“My eating has been minimal to say the least. I just haven’t got any interest in food, although that’s not entirely correct. Actually I seem to think about it and how much/little I’ve eaten constantly. I know that I have it all out of proportion, but it’s okay. I think I’ve overeaten even when I haven’t!” “I fainted again this morning. I don’t know whether it was the medication or lack of food. Dave is all worried about it, but I don’t care.” “I’ve been very light headed. I’m not sure whether that’s due to food or drugs (I’m in the middle of another changeover).” “Mostly I just want to be on my own. No need to talk or do anything. Just sit. There have been no tears today although sometimes I wished there were. Sometimes I wished I could scream and yell, but mostly I just feel numb.” “Today I had lunch with Lee. It was very intense. I didn’t want to be there, as I didn’t want to answer all her questions. (Nor did I want to have to eat!) I expected her to be more real… but I came away feeling more isolated than ever, out of reality. I mentioned medication to which she answered ‘Are you that bad that you need medication?’ I was hurt. Medication is only a part of what’s really going on. It reinforced to me why I don’t tell people.” I felt very cut off, like I existed in another world. In a way I did. It’s not a world you can even begin to understand unless you’ve been in it. It’s easy to join this other world, one you never even knew existed. But it’s another thing to get back into the world you came from. The two co-exist but there is little cross-over. How could I expect anyone to understand? My world was invisible to them. Something maybe of movies or books, but not their reality. What’s more, nothing made sense. What made sense to me usually made no sense to anyone else. And then, there were
60

still lots of things that made no sense to me either. I was living a new language, one that neither I, nor anyone around me, understood. I couldn’t see that at the time though. I expected understanding. I expected people to be able to see what was going on for me. But they couldn’t meet those expectations and so I was left alone and disappointed. “Tonight we saw Shadowlands, based on C S Lewis and his discovery of love when he married his wife. Dave and I talked about it afterwards and he said that it reaffirmed for him how much he loves me. I was afraid he would say that. One of the lines in the movie was along the lines of, if I am to marry this person I must love her so much, more than anything else in the whole world, to want to experience her pain and joy and to give all of myself to her. It made me think that I’m not sure that I do love Dave like that. Another line: why do I risk love when it hurts so much? I feel a bit like that.” “ I have to see Dr Randall today. How can I tell her that I desperately need to sleep but I’m scared of sleeping? How can I tell her that I have no appetite but that I think about food all the time?” To get up each day was so hard. I just wanted to be in my room, without interruption from anyone. I felt very withdrawn and didn’t want to speak to anyone. When I didn’t talk I believed that no one would be able to tell me how they thought I should be. No one to react to how I am. I could almost pretend that it wasn’t real. “I feel very cut off, like I exist in a different world. My thoughts are my own, and when I dare to share them I am told how strange they are. It reinforces how far off track I have got.”
61

After about eight weeks on Prozac, Dr Randall added Lithium to my prescription. I totally freaked out. Isn’t Lithium what people take when they have bi-polar disorder? Surely I don’t have that. It took a long time to convince me that the Lithium was just to increase the effectiveness of the Prozac. Apparently it was a relatively common practice. But it meant more side effects and monthly blood tests to check the Lithium levels. I hated it all. I hated being reliant on those little pills, which I suspected did nothing at all. “I’ve been thinking about writing to Anthony. I don’t know what it is about him. Almost like I am still in love with him, even though I don’t want to be. He hurt me badly, yet I don’t seem to be able to let go. His friendship was so good and we shared so many great times. I am angry with myself. I don’t love Anthony like I love Dave. It’s the friendship/companionship of Anthony. Look at me! I’m comparing them. How can I?” “I think it is that I am scared I will lose myself in marriage, but also that I am marrying because it seems like the right thing to do. Every time I hear someone say ‘you two are a great match’ or ‘he’s great, hold onto him’ and such comments I can’t help thinking ‘yes, but ...’” “I am meant to be seeing Dr Randall on Thursday, with Dave. Her request. But I don’t want him to be there. How can I say that I’m so tired, yet I’m scared to go to sleep? How can I say I have no appetite, yet I seem to think about food constantly? How can I say that I feel trapped when I am touched, yet crave to be held? I don’t want to have to explain everything to him over and over again. I don’t want to have to explain whether I didn’t sleep one night because I didn’t want to sleep, or because I just didn’t sleep. He will want to know everything. He always does. Everything has to be explained, in detail. It has to be able to be understood
62

by him. If it’s not he won’t let go of it. He’s like a dog with a bone” “I have to ring Paul back but I’m scared of Dave being in the room when I do. It’s not that I want to keep things from him; it’s just that I can’t handle the way he deals with it.” “Suicidal thoughts are much less often, and for the past three week I have been able to separate the thoughts from whether or not I want to act on those thoughts. That aside though, I feel more withdrawn than ever.” This was the early part of 1994 and life was pretty quiet for me. The only time I went out was to see Paul, Dr Randall, or Don (my new therapist). Other than that it was weekly trips to the pharmacy, or over to Dave’s flat. I didn’t know where I belonged and mostly I didn’t want to belong anywhere. All I wanted was an exit from the world. Notes 1. Blauner, Susan Rose, 2002, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me, Harper Collins.

63

Chapter 7 – Ever Decreasing Circles
“The woman who said you can never be too rich or too thin? She lied.” Sancia Robinson, Mary Jane…

Weight continued to be a problem. I had been to see Paul again and he had noticed that my weight had fallen further. I was weighed every time I saw Dr Randall. Why were they so worried about it? I felt good. Their attention to it encouraged me to lose more weight. Was I becoming anorexic? I certainly didn’t want to acknowledge it. “More and more I think that I’m becoming anorexic. I read an article on eating disorders that said that if you answer ‘yes’ to four or more statements, that you should seek help. I answered ‘yes’ to all of them! In some ways I think I should tell someone but I don’t want to. It’s a problem that I don’t want to admit because then I’ll have to put weight on. It’s ridiculous that I can’t even eat a whole apple without being scared I’ll put on weight. I feel like it’s controlling me.” “Dave said the word tonight – anorexia. He followed it up by saying that he doesn’t know anything about it. I quickly said that I’m sure I’m not anorexic. He’s concerned that I’m not eating and what that might lead to. He tried to assure me that he wasn’t monitoring my every mouthful. I think I believe him. He doesn’t make as big a deal about my eating as Mum did. He says he’s just concerned. So I said that I wasn’t concerned and he accepted that. Phew!” “I spend my time working out how I can get away with not eating. Eating the bare minimum. I never finish a meal now, and if I can, I dispose of it rather than eat it. I know I should be talking to Paul or Dr Randall about this but I don’t want to. I think it’s got
64

something to do with keeping control. I don’t want someone to take away the little control I have left.” It was about control. Hanging onto what control I could still have. Not much. Patterns of disordered eating had happened before in my life. Weight gain was soon followed by the latest diet. Diets had mixed results but when combined with large amounts of exercise, there was no stopping me. I had an on again, off again, relationship with the gym. I also swam and tried to convince myself that I enjoyed running. I didn’t enjoy running but I made myself. Pounding the hills of Wellington, usually in a full southerly gale. In 1992 I joined Jenny Craig. It worked really well initially. I stuck to the diet and did the regulation amount of exercise. But soon I was cutting the portions out and doing more exercise. I’d skip the snacks that were included in the regulation 6-meal-a-day programme. Then I’d skip the meals. On top of that I was running for 40 minutes in the morning before work and then going to an aerobics class after work. I’m not trying to give Jenny Craig a bad name. It would have worked properly if I had stuck to the rules. The foundations were there for me to learn sensible eating habits. But for me it was the beginning of taking things too far. I enjoyed losing weight, and once I started there was no stopping me. “I saw Paul this afternoon. He wants me to see a nutritionist. I refused. I don’t need anyone to tell me how to eat. I know how to, I just don’t want to. Paul says that I need to put on at least five kilos. He’s got to be kidding!” “I can’t eat anything without struggling to actually swallow the food! Every time I swallow I think I’m going to put on weight.
65

When I am confronted with food I start off thinking ‘no, I can’t’, and then I think ‘one biscuit won’t hurt’, but then I start to eat it and I think ‘no, I can’t’, and so I don’t. It’s like this every time, no matter what it is.” “I’m eating less and less. Today I ate half an apple (said it was too floury to finish the rest), a small amount of pasta (which I didn’t finish) and two mouthfuls of pumpkin pie (to shut Dave up). Logically I know I can’t continue like this. The only thing is I don’t want to admit to the problem because I’ll just be told to eat more and I don’t want to. I can’t do it! I don’t want someone to take the control away from me. But oh, the weight of it on my shoulders. Like I’m keeping a big secret from the world.” It’s hard to explain just what torture I would go through. Every mealtime was a war zone. If I had to eat with other people, I would internalise it but there would be a major battle taking place inside. Every mouthful was agonising. I’d see other people eating and it would freak me out. How come they could eat without worrying? How come they could eat without putting on weight? Why could they do it but I couldn’t? I would calculate calories as I ate. Counting, counting, counting. Every lettuce leaf counted. Every grape was more than I could allow myself to have. There were days when the non-fat milk in my coffee was the only food I allowed myself. Other times I would go through the motions of eating. I would chew the food, but then spit it out. A waste disposal helped enormously as there would be no tell-tale signs in the rubbish bin. Other times I would spit into a rubbish bag. I liked the taste of the food but couldn’t bring myself to swallow. I convinced myself that this technique actually filled me up. I wouldn’t feel hungry, even though I hadn’t actually swallowed the food. Another trick was to empty my plate while no one was looking. I threw food out the window, into the rubbish or straight into the toilet bowl. Anything to avoid having to eat.
66

In the midst of this internal battle I continued to worry about what I was doing with my relationship with Dave. I couldn’t imagine a future either with, or without him. “It’s like having a brick wall in front of me, except it’s on both sides as well. Dr Randall suggested that I take some pressure of myself. I don’t have to decide today, tomorrow, or next week. But inside I feel like I do. I’m keeping Dave waiting. She posed a good point. Having no history of depression, I became depressed two weeks after getting engaged. Why? There was no history of depression in my family. Well, not that any one ever talked about. There was certainly no history of any diagnosed depressive illness, but I now think that depression did exist in the family. My personal opinion is that my paternal grandmother suffered with years of undiagnosed depression. But there were plenty of triggers in my life that had led me down this track. I just couldn’t see them at the time. Triggers not only leading me toward depression, but also to an eating disorder. If anyone had actually seen and taken notice of what I ate, a diagnosis of anorexia would have been almost immediate. In the morning I could not escape breakfast as the Carsons (the family I was living with) were still around. A quarter of a cup of sultana bran and two tablespoons of lite yoghurt was my ration. A cup of coffee to wash it down. I would eat about half of this and then tip the rest down the waste disposal. If no one was around, I would put the food in my bowl but then tip it straight out without touching it. That way there was a dirty plate, so they would think I had eaten. I would skip lunch altogether. Most nights I had to eat at least some dinner, as I would either be with the Carsons or with Dave. I would pick at the vegetables as long as there was no butter, oil or sauce on them and I might have a small bite of the meat. Then I would pretend to be full, saying I had been out for
67

lunch that day, or similar. I had every excuse in the book worked out. “I feel like it’s controlling me. Even though there is a rational part of me, that part is not strong enough to conquer what feels like it is taking over my life. Sometimes I think I should tell someone, but then I wonder why I don’t just eat more. I don’t eat more because I can’t.” “It’s ridiculous. I lied to Dave tonight about whether I think there is a problem. Up until now I have avoided lying to him about what I’ve eaten. I really don’t want to lie to him, but it seems the only way of keeping control of this myself.” “All I had today was two trim lattes, and I feel like I’ve over-done it.” “I just don’t want to eat, and wish I wasn’t expected to. Food is all around and it is so hard to avoid. I don’t dare tell Dave any of this. I want to get it off my shoulders, but if I do that, then I’ll be made to eat more. The pressure inside me is enormous.” “Today is an angry day! Dave is convinced I have a problem with my eating and is sure I’m doing myself damage. He wants to call Paul. I have told him that he can ring Paul only if it is to get information for himself. He is not to talk to Paul about me! The last thing I want is Paul ringing me. This is always what happens. Dave doesn’t think I can look after myself. I feel like a bloody child.” “Saw Dr Randall today and came away shocked. We were talking about anti-depressants and she said she is running out of alternatives to try. She said she might have to try shock treatment! I hate this! I feel like giving up!”

68

“I now try to limit myself to one meal a day. I’m careful about eating around Dave because he’s pretty tetchy about it. He keeps his mouth shut for so long and then I cop it again.” Around this time, as I struggled to keep as much control as possible, I stepped up my intake of laxatives. For the past few months I had regularly taken about 25 at a time, although not every day. Now I increased that to anyway between 50 and 100 every time I ate. The biggest problem with this was not the consequences – stomach cramps, rushing to the toilet, and of course all the things this was doing to my insides. Rather the problem was maintaining my supply. Pharmacies were reluctant to sell them. Some had them out of sight so you had to ask for them. Others made you sign for them. I quickly learnt which chemists didn’t take such a hard line. I would never go to the same pharmacy more than once a fortnight. I would also make sure that I was served by the youngest person there, never the actual pharmacist who would be likely to question me. I was on a sickness benefit at the time and most of my money went straight into laxatives. I was convinced that I needed them. That way I could eat a little bit (still considerably less than normal) but did not have to fear putting on weight. “I haven’t been to church this morning. I have a bad attitude about it. It just doesn’t seem relevant. Dave went on his own yet again.” “On a positive note, I am feeling much better about Dave and the thought of marrying him. He is my best friend and life seems very right with him in it.” Dave wondered when we’d be able to set a wedding date. How long would it take? In some ways I was starting to feel better and
69

I was looking for part-time work. So why couldn’t we set a date? I was starting to feel better with Dave and with the prospect of marriage. I could do this. I could make it work.

70

Chapter 8 – To Love and Honour
We promise according to our hopes…” François de La Rochefoucauld

So the date was set. We would get married in Auckland on 24 September 1994. This time we would organise it and have what we wanted. When we had planned to get married in February, we had agreed to have the wedding in Christchurch, which would be easier for the families. And in the state that I was in, I had happily left it up to Dave and our parents to arrange. This time I wanted to be involved. We rang Craig who was living in Zambia, first to make sure he could come back for it. He assured us he would. Then we rang everyone else. Everyone was happy. We had about three months to organise everything. Thankfully we already knew what we wanted as we had done so much previously. All we had to do was find a place for the ceremony and the reception, find a photographer and sort out clothes. The dress I had bought for the earlier date no longer fitted. It was now big enough for two of me, and there was no way it could be altered enough. Also it was awful. I hated it and I couldn’t understand how I could possibly have liked it. I definitely needed a new dress. I continued to lose weight and refused to do anything about it. Sometimes I would indulge and allow myself a chocolate bar, but afterwards I would feel guilty and swallow handfuls of laxatives. Mostly I ate only two small meals a day. At least half of my breakfast still went down the waste disposal and dinner was as small as I could possibly get away with. When getting my wedding dress made I was continually reminded of my weight.
71

“On Thursday I had a fitting for my dress. The designer reckoned I’d be a size eight. Considering I’m 5’10” I should be more than happy with that. I’m not though. I look at myself in the mirror and can still see heaps of fat.” “I’ve started to read more about eating disorders. That’s as far as I’m going, I certainly won’t discuss it with anyone. I read about body mass indexes that rate average weight at 20 to 25, 19 as underweight and 17 as needing hospitalisation. I worked mine out. It’s 17.3.” I read as much as I could lay my hands on, but would still never admit that perhaps there was a problem. It helped reading other accounts of illness. I was not alone. The problem was though, if I’m really honest, is that sometimes reading other people’s stories gave me new ways that I could cut back on my eating. I got ideas from them and in that respect perhaps reading was not so good. I told myself I would have worked it out anyway. Physically things were going from bad to worse. Much as I thought being slim would make me beautiful, it wasn’t. To start with ‘slim’ was not what I saw. I looked at myself and still saw fat. I literally couldn’t see what others were seeing. It’s called body dysmorphia. Then my hair was falling out, I hadn’t had a period for months and I was constipated all the time. That was more excuse to use laxatives. I was told that I was suffering from severe malnutrition and that this would result in several problems including long term lowered bone density and reduced fertility. I didn’t care. I was freezing all the time and just couldn’t get warm, even in summer. Even those who I allowed to see me had little idea. Sure I was thin, but I covered it up well. And my family and many of my friends were held at a distance. They would never have known that things had got to this bad. Also in society we strive for thinness and so my losing weight was seen as a good thing. Every
72

thing I looked at was related to losing weight and looking more beautiful. The problem though was that it stopped being good when my body mass index dropped below 20, whereas for me that body dysmorphia stopped me from seeing it. “Saw Dr Randall today. She says I have to put on at least ten kilos! What Paul said was bad enough but there is no way I’m going to do ten. She says I look terrible. What right has she got to say anything? She wants me to start using Ensure. Apparently it’s a nutritional drink. She says I’m not having periods any more because of my weight and that this can lead to fertility problems and osteoporosis later on. Does she think I care?” Other people had started to notice that I wasn’t eating. Dave and I were in Palmerston North for his sister’s wedding. His mother commented that I wasn’t eating enough. The next morning she’d left a bowl of cereal on the table with my name on it. I dealt to it – straight down the waste disposal, still a very handy way of getting rid of food. “I got a letter from Paul telling me that he wants to see me about my weight. Groan!” “I saw Paul and told him that I can’t keep seeing both him and Dr Randall. I think he thought I was just uncomfortable with her because she keeps putting pressure on me to eat, but he’s just as good at applying the pressure. He’s getting a lot stricter with me now. He wants 15 kilos now.” Amazingly, during this time I had a job baking for a Ponsonby café. Apparently it’s common for people with eating disorders to surround themselves with food, as I was doing. It just added to that sense that I was strong, I could be around the food but I wouldn’t eat it.

73

“I feel like a giant iceberg floating in the ocean alone. There are other icebergs in sight but we can’t touch. There is so much of my iceberg that can’t be seen by anyone else. On the surface everything looks fine but below sea-level it feels as if it is all crumbling to pieces.” “Watched a television programme about anorexia tonight. When I look at that, I don’t think I have a problem.” A month out from the wedding I was not in a good state. I felt incredibly confused as well as trapped. Trapped by what it seemed I was supposed to do. It seemed everyone had expectations of me. Whether it was to put on weight, eat more, be happy or to be looking forward to the wedding day. The truth was that I wasn’t looking forward to it. All I wanted to do was to run. Run far away. “Tonight I finally plucked up the courage to start taking the pill. Isn’t it ridiculous? The very thing that will prevent pregnancy is a huge block for me. Maybe that’s about growing up (which in itself sounds ridiculous at 29) and maybe it’s about the risk of becoming pregnant.” Of course in reality there was little chance of me becoming pregnant. I had no interest in sex or any type of intimacy with Dave. My weight had dropped so low that I hadn’t had a period for months. In mind and body, I had returned to being a child. None of the normal adult functions existed internally and even my shape resembled that of a child. No curves, no breasts. I didn’t care. Just angles of bones poking through. “The closer the wedding comes the more I am scared of the intimacy of relationship with Dave as my husband. No, I’m not having doubts! Dave is my best friend. I love him. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. But I am scared!”
74

“I think I’ve done a silly thing in having a tight-fitting wedding dress. Nothing is hidden and I know it will attract comments about my size. Especially from mothers.” “Actually right now I am totally sick of the whole wedding thing. Frankly I couldn’t care. I just don’t want to know about it.” Three days before the wedding I wasn’t coping. My BMI was very low, and I should have been in hospital on a re-feeding programme. My brother Craig had arrived from Zambia and it felt good to be with him. I felt like I could just be myself. But I was putting on a brave face. Inside I felt totally panicked. Two nights before the wedding I admitted my fear to Craig when I collapsed in tears saying I didn’t want to get married. Craig was worried but felt there was little he could do. I had convinced myself that I just had to go through the motions and everything would be okay after the wedding. The only thing that was keeping things manageable was the cocktail of medication I was on by that time. I had been given sleeping pills, and while I still wasn’t sleeping through the night at least I was getting something. Aside from that and the antidepressants, benzodiazepines had been introduced and would get me through the day. So why did I agree to the wedding when I had so many doubts about the whole idea of marrying Dave? A good question. With hindsight I know now that I should have just cancelled the whole thing. But then, I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to keep postponing. I felt under pressure and felt I had no choice. I had to marry regardless of how I felt. “It is now two days before the wedding. I am spinning wildly out of control, although I didn’t admit this to Paul when I saw him this morning. Oh how much I wish I could stop the train and get off. It’s all too fast. I feel hopeless. I can’t help but wonder what
75

is so wrong with me that I can’t think straight enough to tell myself it’s okay. I just keep going because I can only begin to imagine the anguish I would cause for Dave and I can’t do that to him; although right now for me it seems preferable. My love for Dave is the absolute only thing that is keeping me going.” I hardly ate anything. It was the only way to cope. My size 8 wedding dress was now too big for me but I didn’t care. I just had to keep going. Finally the 24th of September 1994 came and went. Most of it I don’t remember. That’s probably the medication. It is very obvious from the photos that I was pretty spaced out on the day. From what others have said, it was a good day. When I watched the video later, I was horrified to see and hear myself as I was getting out of the car at the church. I said to my father “Don’t make me go in!” It sounded so crazy that it couldn’t possibly be for real – I guess my father thought I was joking. Somehow I put aside all my doubts and fears and … and got married. By the time we got back from the honeymoon I was spinning again. I felt there was nothing wrong with Dave but I definitely wasn’t right for marriage. I still believed that Dave was my ‘Mr Right’ but there was something very wrong with me. “A really weird thing happened last night. It wasn’t a dream because I know I was awake. In my head, I heard, and felt this bottle smash to the ground. It smashed into tiny pieces. I felt like the bottle was me – smashed into tiny pieces and I wasn’t sure, and still am not sure that I can put it back together.” Three weeks after the wedding my Uncle John (my great-uncle) died. He was in his 90’s and it had been so great to have him at the wedding. The wedding had been at St Andrews Church in Epsom, which he had attended for about 50 years. He even had to show my brother-in-law how to ring the bells at the end of the
76

ceremony. He had a great time even though he ended up in hospital later that night. “Uncle John died this morning. He was so special. I know he was old. I know he was tired. But already I miss him. He was a grandfather to me and I loved him dearly. I didn’t really know Grandad Reddell and I spent all my time scared of Grandad Holland. Not sure why, as he was a lovely man. He just seemed gruff to me, and like I was never good enough for him. Uncle John gave me another chance, but now he’s gone.” Uncle John’s funeral was back at St Andrews. It felt weird to be back again. I cried a lot. I wished he hadn’t died, and part of me wished that it had been me who was dead. Just two months after the wedding I wrote a letter to Paul. I had been struggling to tell him what was going on in my mind, and I thought he deserved as much of an explanation as I could muster. I wrote: "Dear Paul… I am finding it really difficult to actually speak out what is going on in my mind. There is an enormous sense of frustration and isolation because of this, and because it means that the harsh reality of what is going on inside, stays inside. Dave has reminded me that I can express myself well on paper… so I'll try. I see it as important to do this because I don't think I am giving you a very clear picture of where I am at. Also, I guess it's a matter of needing to tell some one. There are probably lots of reasons why I struggle to talk. I get so frustrated with myself that even in the privacy of my doctor's office I struggle. I appreciate that you have acknowledged the difficulty I have, and acknowledged that there are more things happening than I dare to speak of.

77

Firstly those thoughts. I lie awake at night wondering why all this is happening. Why have I not responded to treatment? Why I find counselling so hard? What does the future really hold for me? What am I doing to Dave? What am I doing to our relationship? Why is it that I don't seem to be able to function in 'normal' social environments? The questions obviously go on, but in essence they lead on to two thoughts. The first is, 'if life is so dark, why not kill myself?' As you know the thought of suicide has been on my mind again for at least the last month. I question myself constantly as to why I haven't just done it. Why am I still just thinking about it? To me it seems like the best option for me, but I guess I'm scared. Scared of hurting people who might not agree that is really is the best way. There are times when my Christianity also stops me from acting, but lately it's been more just an issue of fear. Having talked of suicide for what seems to be a long time and not having done it (or moved on from those thoughts), I am now beating myself up for not having acted. I have also stopped talking about it because I can't stand the feeling of being under '24 hour watch'. A few weeks ago I refused to give Dave my Lithium. I couldn't cope with not having the choice, not having the control. The same as I couldn't cope with the sense of being watched. The second thought raised by those earlier questions is 'run!' I find it amazing, but I have an incredible urge to run away. Again I haven't done it yet. But still, day after day, my mind goes over the thought, and there have been several times when I have come close. So why do I seem to find it so hard to actually verbalise these thoughts? Partly because hearing myself talk out the thoughts makes them even more real than they already are. Until I tell someone else, they remain part of my own private world where I
78

can chose to pretend they aren't there. What's more, I can maintain some sense of 'normality' (whatever that is). To talk about those thoughts confirms my fear that I am going mad, and I assume, confirms the suspicions of those who get to hear them. It is so hard to tell my husband, whom I have only just married, that I want to run away (isn't that for children to dream of doing?) It is so hard to admit to wanting to leave the light on at night because the darkness is too overwhelming. It is so hard to explain the fears I have in a way that can be really understood. I find it hard to talk because there is the fear of losing control. I don't want the control of my life to be taken away. I want to be able to choose for myself. Also, I am scared of the reaction I will get. Will I be understood? Will my thoughts be recognised as real to me? What will speaking my thoughts do to the other person? How will they react? Will I be able to handle their reaction? Fear for Dave having to hear my reality is a big reason why I don't talk. I know he will worry. I guess I would too, if I was in his shoes. But while in my own shoes, I can't cope with an overreaction. I can't cope with being watched. It comes down to protecting myself. By not talking about the harsh realities, I can attempt to pretend it's just a nightmare and… I can maintain some sense of control. The intention to protect myself is there, but I know that in doing so, I am increasingly isolating myself from life. To me, it feels like I have been on this treadmill too long, but in getting off, I'm not sure which way to jump… or even how to. There is minimal will left in me to fight. I find it difficult to make decisions on which direction to try next. Often I wonder why I should bother trying. I struggle to take medication when I feel
79

like all I get is side effects. I am tired of feeling like I have to be a constantly open book. I am tired of struggling with Dave over it all, and what that is doing to our marriage. I no longer want to face the things I find so hard (seemingly most things). I feel too tired. Twice this week I have not wanted to face the day and so in the morning, have taken Doxepin to sleep the day away. It is the first time that I have taken more of a prescription drug than I should (but know that it wasn't enough to cause harm). Today I asked you for a repeat prescription, and my actions of earlier in the week are heavy on my mind. I wanted to admit to what I had done, but couldn't (partly because of Dave's presence)… for all the reasons above. It still seems to me that I haven't said it all. It is too much to even put on paper, let alone to speak of. I am scared of being seen to be over-dramatising the situation. I guess a lot of me just doesn't know what to make of it all, so wonder what anyone else will make of it."

80

Chapter 9 – Forbidden Thoughts
“Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There is so little hope for advancement.” ‘Snoopy’, Charles M. Schulz

I was trapped. Trapped between life and death. Life was so dark and scary, yet I wasn’t supposed to think such thoughts. Suicide was for other people, and particularly not for people who held a Christian faith. My faith in God was supposed to be my life, it was supposed to see me through the hard times. My faith had been as Harold S. Kushner portrayed in his book ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’ (1981)1. I had grown up with this image of God as a father who loved me even more than my earthly father. More than I could imagine. God was all knowing, all wise, he would protect me from pain and hurt. He would see that bad things didn’t happen to me if I was a good person. But faced with a time harder than I ever believed possible, I couldn’t find the strength or the will to hang on to that faith. It seemed that faith was impossible. It was as if God had closed the door on me, and as the thoughts of harm and suicide became stronger I wondered what had happened to my beliefs. What I was now considering so seriously was what I would have previously regarded as unthinkable and forbidden. Still, those ‘forbidden’ thoughts were taking over. They hung on my mind both day and night. For a long time I was kept from death by my concern for those around me. A mistake that several psychiatrists made was to interpret that concern as meaning that I was not really being serious about suicide. In fact on at least one occasion Dave was told by a psychiatrist there was nothing to worry about, as I would
81

never do it. How little they knew their patient! My concern for others would affect everything in life, but it certainly didn’t mean that the thoughts weren’t serious and couldn’t be acted on. I knew how much suicide would hurt those close to me. I knew they wouldn’t fully understand and that they would be angry. My desire to keep those I loved from being hurt so badly made me hang on, day after day. I desperately wanted to die… but I couldn’t do it to them. I wouldn’t knowingly do anything that would hurt them so much. But after a while I began to believe that I would actually be doing everyone a favour by killing myself. They wouldn’t have to worry any more. They’d be better off without me. I truly believed this. I was often being told by psychologists and therapists to stop putting everybody else first. I should put myself first for a change. It seemed that one of the underlying causes of my depression was my belief that others were more important than me. Somewhere in my past I had learned that what I wanted for myself was of least importance. I can remember as a child in Sunday School singing the words: ‘Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between’. Perhaps that was all part of those formed beliefs. Now in therapy, I was being shown that it was okay to put my needs ahead of others. The dilemma slowly became apparent: thinking I had to always put myself last needed to change… but in the meantime it was keeping me alive. I wanted to be dead. Those around me wanted me to be alive. As bad, and as suicidal as I felt, the others were winning. I was still alive. In thinking of death, I was torn between the peace I was sure it would bring and the pain it would also bring. Particularly the pain and agony it would bring Dave. I used to imagine him finding me dead, and think about what he would do. Would he blame himself? Would he wish he had been there to stop me? Would he
82

ultimately be able to move on in his life, perhaps even re-marry? I was petrified that he would blame himself. That he would wish he had done something more. Petrified, because I knew that he wouldn’t be to blame. That he would have done all he could, and that ultimately it was me who would choose life or death. The mental image of him alone in such torment told me that I couldn’t kill myself. “It feels like I am under house arrest. Dave won’t leave me alone for a minute. Damn! I wish they would all just piss off and leave me alone. I’m sick of being analysed, watched and assessed. I’m sick of being asked what I mean every time I say anything. Go away!” “Paul rang last night, and at one stage said he felt like we weren’t addressing the issues – I wasn’t saying what was really on my mind. He was right, but I didn’t feel able to say anything while Dave was in the room. Paul seemed to be angry with me, because I was keeping something from him.” “I feel like I’m standing on a very shaky fence. I have no clothes on, and everyone is standing, watching, fully-clothed, and waiting to see which way I will fall.” “I saw Justin (the new psychologist) this morning. He basically told me that all the therapists I had seen in the past 14 months had been treating me wrong. What a waste of time! And how do I know that Justin’s way would be right? Who’s to say that another person somewhere down the track isn’t going to say the same thing about his methods? I feel cheated. I thought I was paying good money for the right treatment. What’s the point in bothering? The other day Paul told me that I shy away from counselling and in doing so sabotage my recovery. I felt like he was telling me to pull myself together. I think I’m going crazy!”

83

“Dearest Dave … know how much you wish you could understand my living hell; and that if you could you’d take it away. But you can’t. It is a private hell and no amount of wishing will take it away. I want to be able to explain it to you, explain my fears and worries. But even to me it seems unreal. I can’t find the words to even begin. When I try, I quickly become frustrated because I can’t explain it adequately. Some times you say you understand, but I know you don’t. That would be impossible. You said you would keep shining the torch into the dark hole I am stuck in. It is all I can see – your light. That’s what it is, as I don’t have any light. I don’t know if I have any energy or desire to climb towards your light, so that I could perhaps ignite my own. Will I make it this time? Today the risk seems too great.” Times came when it was too much. I could no longer hang on to my life simply for the sake of anyone else. In those times life seemed so, so black, and I was sure that Dave and those dear to me would be better off without me. Sure they would hurt, but ultimately they would be able to put an end to what seemed like endless dark days to all of us. They would be able to leave it behind and be free to move on. Only a month after visiting Ashburn Clinic I attempted to kill myself using an overdose of sleeping pills. A couple of days earlier I had seen a letter that I wasn’t supposed to see. It was to Paul from Tony, the psychiatrist I had seen at Ashburn Clinic. It suggested that given time away from Dave, I might conclude that our relationship should end, and that I wouldn’t get better until I left him. That was January 1995. I had managed to hold off acting on my thoughts for 15 months, but I couldn’t any longer. Perhaps deep inside I had known what Tony had said but didn’t want to admit it myself or hear anyone else say it. Ending the relationship with Dave was not an option for me. I had vowed to be married to
84

Dave for life. So did this mean, I wondered, that if I didn’t leave my marriage I would be in this hell for life? I had argued with Dave the night before. In the early hours of the morning I had packed a bag and wanted to leave. I just wanted to get away from the pain. Run and hide. I also wanted to get away from Dave. I needed space. I needed time. I needed to get away for myself as much as (I thought) for Dave. How much more of this could he take? It wasn’t fair on him, and so I thought that if I couldn’t kill myself then I would run. We argued for a long time. Dave wanted to phone Paul. He took the car keys from me and said that he wouldn’t let me have them until I talked to Paul. I knew that if Dave managed to get Paul involved that I would never get away, but eventually around midnight Dave had Paul on the phone wanting to talk to me. Now I was really angry. How dare these two try to stop me doing what I wanted to do! They both wanted to know where I was going to go. I had no idea, but told them it was none of their business. Somehow the phone conversation ended, and a couple of hours later I managed to get the car keys by telling Dave that I was going to a local hotel for the night. Fuming at Dave, life, and the world – I was off! I drove around the streets for ages. Dave had persuaded me to promise not to kill myself and in my desire to be honest to my word I knew that I couldn’t do it. Why had I let Dave make me promise? Damn it! To kill myself was exactly what I really wanted to do, and I had let him talk me into a promise that my principles wouldn’t let me break. I had given my word and I feared that as soon as I was found I would be chucked in hospital. Eventually I decided there was nowhere to go and so I may as well go home. It was about 4.00am and after creeping into the house, I collapsed into a restless sleep on the couch downstairs.
85

The next morning Dave thought that all was okay and headed off to work, leaving me sleeping on the couch. At 10.00am on that Thursday morning I took an overdose of sleeping pills. By then, I didn’t care what happened – whether I lived or died. I hoped that I would die, but I just wanted out of life. I’d had enough and I didn’t care. I wrote in my journal a few days later that at the time, life just wasn’t worth anything. I had no idea of how much it would take to kill me. The suicide attempt only succeeded in allowing me an opportunity to catch up on sleep I had been lacking – I slept for two days, and Dave didn’t actually realise anything was amiss because I had been so tired. So how did he miss it? He was at work at 10.00am, just before I took the pills. When he came home that night and found me sleeping he just left me to sleep, not realising that there was anything more than me being very tired. On Friday morning he left for work as usual without waking me, still not realising that anything was wrong. Perhaps he was too scared to face the truth. A failed attempt seemed bad enough to me at the time, but the hardest thing was that no one knew what I had done. I had just tried to kill myself … and had failed. “The hard thing is that no one knows. Paul has gone away and I didn’t get to talk to him. Dave doesn’t know. I guess he just thinks that I was tired. I could easily try again. It doesn’t worry me that I failed - I just don’t care.” It never occurred to Dave, and since the late night phone conversation with Paul there had been no further contact (actually he had since gone away on a well earned holiday for two weeks). No one knew what the past couple of days had really entailed! I felt so stupid! But no one knew so I could easily try again.

86

The rational part of me told me that I should tell someone what I had done. But how? How could I just drop my suicide attempt into conversation and still have my freedom at the end of the day? I was convinced that confession of the deed would give me a direct ticket to hospital – what I feared most. It was another five days before I told anyone of the attempt. I told my new therapist, Carolyn, during my next appointment. By then I expected that telling someone would be something of a relief. It would no longer be a dreadful secret to carry around with me. But it wasn’t. Carolyn was good, but as we talked I got more and more nervous. In what she described as her ‘professional responsibility’ she wanted to convince me not to try again – she had a responsibility to keep me safe. I’d heard it all before. She wanted me to promise to keep myself safe, but I told her I couldn’t. I wasn’t, and have never been prepared to make any promise I can’t guarantee to keep. Little did she know that I had a pile of drugs in the car ready to try again. Later that week I finally told Dave what I had done. It got to the stage where keeping the secret from him any longer was too much. I couldn’t stand it, although equally feared the consequences of telling him. I told him that I thought I needed help – even though I didn’t want it. Dave was really surprised. He knew I had been having suicidal thoughts for a long time, but I think the fact that I had actually tried and that he hadn’t realised shocked and scared him. By now, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just take more pills and do the job properly. Forget about Dave, and about anyone else. Why not just get it over and done with? Instead as time went on, and gradually more people (including both our families and a few close friends) began to find out of my
87

attempt, I retreated into silence. I couldn’t handle any more. I was scared and had begun to feel like a prisoner (as people feared that I would try again). “I so much need help, but I so much want to be allowed to die… I would prefer to hide under the duvet and wish the world away. Please just go away. Let me choose what I want!” “My head has been throbbing constantly for a week now. It’s not like any headache before. I feel like I’m hung-over – if only. Dave is keen for me to see a doctor but as Paul is away I’m certainly not going to go through everything with a complete stranger. Too painful!” Over the next month there were many times when I came so close to the edge. But each time something would keep me from committing the deed. I was angry with anyone who tried to stop me, and desperately wanted to be left alone to choose for myself. I thought a lot about my funeral during that time, although wasn’t altogether sure that I had the right to choose what type of funeral I would like. Sometimes I thought about what life after death would be like, but not having an answer and not knowing where to get one, I mostly tried to ignore the issue. I hoped that God was even more forgiving than I had been taught and had believed, but I really wasn’t sure any more how much I cared. I just wanted to get out of this world, and then I would face whatever was next. I felt that I had already died inside. The flicker of light that had burned on for the last fifteen months had gone. Left with only a constant paralysis of the mind – to live or to die? My desire to keep Dave and those close from the pain of my death was no longer enough. I was sure that they would be better without the burden my life was placing on them.

88

“The battle continues. I regret bringing Dave into this. I can’t handle him knowing. I hate the way I can’t be a wife to him – I’m more like a child to him. I wish that I had freed him from it a long time ago. But instead I married him, and now for better or worse, he is part of this. He admitted to me tonight that he doesn’t know how to handle my suicide attempt. That’s apparently why he never talks about it.” “I feel such a fool to have married in this state. What have I done? What have I done to Dave? Only five months after the wedding and separation is being suggested every where I turn.” “Saw Paul. Told him everything. Consequence? Back on Prozac, appointment to see Dr Randall again, talk of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). Dave’s reaction to all this? Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” “I feel very isolated. anything else.” My own doing because I can’t stand

“I have a totally wrong comprehension of what love is. I know it is wrong, but it is what I feel. Love equals having power over me. Love equals having rights over me. Love equals diminishing who I am and what I am allowed to be. I’ve tried to be more open about what’s going on. But now I can’t do it anymore. I can’t face what I get back in return. Everyone says they love me, that they care or whatever BUT follow it immediately with advice, criticism or indications that they have absolutely no idea (even although they always say they do) of what is my life.” A month after my suicide attempt I was eventually admitted to hospital. The battle within me had worn me down, and those who wanted to see me in a ‘safe’ environment had won. My suicide attempt convinced Paul and the psychiatrist, that something more needed to be done. It was 16 months since depression had been diagnosed. Neither medication nor psychotherapy had been much
89

help. Dr Button, the psychiatrist, recommended that I be admitted to Cornwall Park Hospital, a private hospital with a ward for psychiatric care. He wanted me in hospital for my ‘own safety’ – in other words, to prevent me from any more suicide attempts. “It all blew up last night when Paul arrived at 8.00pm to talk about hospital admission. Ten minutes after he left, at 10.00pm two men from Community Mental Health arrived to assess me. I bet they were just waiting outside for him to finish before they moved in. I had expected only one person but coming downstairs to find two big and burly men really freaked me out. When I couldn’t make the required decision of what I needed, they made it for me. A nurse would be in the house for the night. Apparently I’m meant to feel relieved to have someone here to keep me safe. Yeah right! I’ve made up my mind though, and they can’t do anything to change that. I will die. They won’t stop me. At 10.00am this morning two women arrived to assess me again. It seemed that the pressure on the mental health system is more relevant than what I might need. I asked why I can’t just kill myself and I got the line about their professional and moral duty. The hardest thing is the distance between what I need and what I want. What I need is probably what I’m getting, but I definitely don’t want it.” Paul suggested that perhaps I should try Ashburn Clinic again. I was very against this. That would be the last place I would go. The letter that Paul got from them nearly destroyed me. It seemed the doctor I had seen thought that Dave didn’t want me to go there, because if I did, I would see that my marriage was the thing making me sick, and so I would leave him. At that stage no one, and I mean no one, was going to get away with telling me that. Reading that letter, meant Ashburn Clinic was no longer an option for me. “No more waiting. I am now admitted to Cornwall Park Hospital, apparently ready for my first ECT treatment tomorrow morning.
90

The nurse told me that I am on ‘special watch’, which means there is always someone in the room with me. I can’t even go to the toilet on my own. I can’t stand it! Everyone says they just have to protect me, keep me safe; but no one is listening to what’s really happening in my mind. None of this makes me feel any better.” “I’m scared of the unknown. Scared of being put to sleep with an anaesthetic. Scared of electrical currents being pumped through my mind in a way that people don’t know how it works. I’m scared of what it might do. What happens if it doesn’t work? Reactions petrify me. What will people say? In hospital for ECT. How much lower can I go? Life has changed so much in two years. How different could it be?” “It’s happened. It’s now afternoon. I have a headache and my jaw aches, apparently from the ECT. Things are starting to come back to me but I feel very hazy.” I wondered where I was, and why there was a ‘nil by mouth’ sign on my bed. And where did the flowers come from? Craig apparently. Amy had been in to visit but I couldn’t remember. I asked the nurse what the date was and she said the 28th but I couldn’t work out what month it was. “ I remember the anaesthetist coming in with a doctor and a nurse. I remember my blood pressure being taken. I remember seeing the needle go in and thinking what if I don‘t go to sleep. I guess I must have.” “I’m being watched (it’s called ‘being specialled’). I don’t feel very special! I have a plastic glass and I’m not allowed anything else in case I hurt myself. I am not even allowed a plastic knife with my dinner. The door is meant to be left open, although they’ve slipped up as it is closed at the moment. What life is this? This is the pits. I am a voluntary patient but that means nothing. If I don’t do what they want, they’ll just do it anyway. There are
91

no choices for me here. All decision-making has been taken out of my hands. I am apparently not capable of making the right decisions for myself.” Notes

1. Kushner, Harold S, 1981, When Bad Things Happen To
Good People, Pan Books.

92

Chapter 10 – Sledgehammer Therapy
"…in a world I’d never known among people whose existence I never thought possible, became for me a concentrated course in the horrors of insanity and the dwelling-place of those judged insane, separating me forever from the former acceptable realities and assurances of everyday life.” Janet Frame, An Angel At My Table

“For I am ill. In the end, I have to admit this to myself. I have made plans, carried them through, even asserted myself a little, so I think. But the effort has worn me out. I abandon myself to sleep again … This time when I wake up, my doctor looks down at me. He isn’t carrying a straitjacket, but he might as well. I decide to go quietly… Yes thank you, I will allow myself to be driven to hospital. Oh, take whatever you like, I don’t expect I’ll care what I wear. Can’t I just put on one of those nightgowns or something? No, don’t bother about my make-up, I know I’m ugly and nothing will ever make me look right again. It’s okay, I understand. Don’t pretend you think any differently. And then you will walk through the doors and see them closed behind you, and you won’t even think, are they locked? Can I get out of here? Because you just won’t care.”1. When I was a child living in Auckland, we had regularly driven past the now closed Oakley Psychiatric Hospital, set well back from the road and surrounded by high fences. In my ignorant youth, I had feared that the car would break down there and the mad people encased by those fences might come and get me. I used to wonder what went on inside the walls of that formidable old brick building. What were the crazy people like?
93

They were dangerous, and they would always be mad. I even wondered how the staff could go to work each day, as I assumed that they were continually in danger from the patients. I never stopped to think of them as being just like me. Somehow, I just assumed they were different. Behind those walls was a place that I would never have to go. After all, it was a place for the mad. Those childhood images were of twenty years before, the 1970’s, and I knew that times had changed. Still, life behind the walls wasn’t something I imagined I needed. I was different. I was normal. I was not crazy! Several close encounters had happened before I eventually had to allow myself to be admitted into psychiatric hospital care. To learn first-hand of life behind those intriguing walls scared me. As I tried hard to avoid hospitalisation, I had an over-riding sense of fear. Life had already become so fragile, and I struggled to see psychiatric hospitals as anything other than what I had read of in books or seen in movies. Portrayal of the psychiatric care of days past, along with what I had seen as a youth, added to my fear. Years before, at high school, I had used the books ‘Faces in the Water’ by Janet Frame (1961) and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ by Ken Kesey (1960) for a sixth form English assignment. Included with a study of the books, was a brief look (through the eyes of my sixteen years) at life within institutional care. As part of the assignment work I had interviewed several people who had spent time, or were currently in institutional care. One of these case studies was a prison inmate, and the other two were psychiatric patients. I thought I understood what it was like. I didn’t. My father, as a minister, spent a lot of his time working with people who were struggling with life. While I was growing up, he was constantly surrounded by people who did not fit easily into
94

society, many of whom were psychiatric patients. I was used to these people being around, and even remember causing an uproar amongst some 'well meaning' people when my parents let me stay with a particular married couple one weekend when I was about ten. The woman had a psychiatric illness and had spent years in and out of hospitals. Many people felt it was inappropriate and irresponsible for my parents to let her look after me. Staying with them was scary but it was enlightening. I had never experienced fighting like I did that weekend. There were no raised voices with my parents, but this weekend, that's all I heard. I hid in my room and cried. I hated it. When I got home at the end of the weekend, I didn’t say anything of what had happened there. It was like a different world. It wasn’t the psychiatric illness that had scared me but the way these two people communicated. It was a new experience for me. What I had seen growing up, through into my early adult years, and what was regularly portrayed by various forms of media, left me an attitude that I now realise many people in today’s society also hold. ‘Psychiatric illness is okay, and those who suffer are real people … but it will never happen to me! Psychiatric hospitals are full of crazy, dangerous people and it will never be something I will be faced with’. But now all those theories were blown out the window. It was the 1990’s and I was the one with a psychiatric illness. I was absolutely petrified of being admitted to hospital. All the things I had seen, stories I had read, and beliefs I had formed, had all built up an image in my mind and so I was determined to fight hospitalisation all the way! Following that first ECT treatment the day after I was admitted, I had about eight more treatments, every second or third day. My memory was definitely failing. I couldn’t remember one day from
95

the next. Nothing seemed to stay in my mind. Even events before the treatments had gone from my mind. I felt so stupid. It was like everything was gone. Although it was now February/March, I was writing September as the date. Visitors came and went but I couldn’t remember them being there let alone what we had talked about. I was in a daze; I had no idea what was happening. The only thing I did know was that I didn't like what was being done to me. I desperately wanted to be discharged. “… I'm just getting so frustrated and confused. Interestingly, Kirsty (another patient here who is hoping to go home this afternoon) seems to feel pretty much the same as I do. Will she ever get to the stage of not considering every possible way of killing herself? Her psychiatrist told her that all the plugs here are double insulated, so sticking a knife in one won't work." I stayed in hospital for nearly two months. The ECT was stopped after about three weeks when Dr Button decided that it wasn’t doing anything. He was quite disappointed in me and told me so. I was the first patient he’d had in 20 years who hadn’t responded to ECT. "Dr Button told me today that he's giving up on ECT. He doesn't think it's working, even though he thinks it should. Shit! I just feel like bawling my eyes out and then running away. I just can't stand it. To make matters worse, he is putting me back on the first anti-depressant I was ever on. So just how is that supposed to work if it didn't before?" I eventually stopped being specialled and was just left alone much of the time. At one stage a nurse tried to convince me that my father had sexually abused me. What’s more she thought Dave was abusing me. I have no idea how she came to those conclusions but they hurt deeply – especially the stuff about Dad. I knew that he had never abused me, but in the confusion caused by the ECT, I had little idea of what was happening. Eventually
96

the matter got sorted out but not without a lot of hurt being caused to my family. At that time some people believed that anything like what I was experiencing must be a result of sexual abuse. Because I was adamant that I had never been abused by anyone else that particular nurse just formed her own conclusion. Dave told my parents about all this awful accusation against Dad. They appeared in town two days later. Perhaps they had planned to come anyway, or perhaps it was their response to what they heard. My mind was such that I had no idea what was going on. Dad was devastated by the abuse accusation, but that apart they didn’t really say that much about anything – my suicide attempt, hospitalisation or ECT. Dave and Dad met with the hospital manager to discuss what had happened. I didn’t want to know. I was scared I’d be told I was just being a troublemaker. To add to that, because of the ECT, I didn’t really know what was going on anyway. I would hardly have been what you might call a reliable witness. After a month I was nearly discharged. But a change in plan happened when I was allowed out with Dave one afternoon, and while he was talking on the phone I started to take more pills, heading for another overdose. I managed to stop myself, but that was the end of the discharge and of my trips out. “I don’t know what to do. I just wish I could go home and get back to who I used to be. My biggest wonder is will I ever get back to who I used to be. Will I ever stop wanting to kill myself? Will I ever start to enjoy myself? Some people just tell me to pull myself together and start looking up. “Snap out of it!” What does that do? I just get angry when people say that. It’s not that simple!”
97

“I don’t feel able to tell anyone just how bad I feel. I got a letter from Mum and Dad thanking me for being honest in a letter last week. But that was only half of it. They think they’ve heard everything, but I haven’t said half of it. Another letter I got this week asked me if my hair had got curlier (like Janet Frame’s) after the ECT. See, no one has any idea.” "It scares me how calm I am about my death. I am no longer afraid of it, and no longer wanting to keep to my promises of keeping myself safe. It used to be fear that stopped me from acting on my thoughts. It doesn't anymore. I guess that's why I'm still in hospital." The longer I stayed in hospital it seemed the worse I felt. Others formed their own opinions, and when they didn’t match with mine, I just learnt to keep quiet. I must be wrong. And the guilt. It was a private hospital and I was very conscious of how much money Craig was putting into my care (which didn’t seem to be doing anything but prolonging my life). "ECT is still having a big affect on me. Tonight I went out with Dave for a couple of hours. My memory is shocking. At one stage he said to me “Shall we park in our usual car park?” I had absolutely no idea where he meant." ECT hadn’t worked, so a new approach had to be tried. Medication was changed yet again. This time I was put onto a type of anti-depressant known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs). The problem with this type of anti-depressant was the side-effects and the food restrictions that had to remain in place as long as I was on it. Among other things I was not allowed to eat cheese, smoked fish, processed meat, soy products, soup, red wine, beer, marmite, and yeast extracts. I also had to limit how much caffeine, chocolate, dairy products, nuts, raspberries, and spinach I consumed. I was told that if I ate the foods listed I
98

would have to go straight to A & E to get treatment for severe high blood pressure. This all seemed very bizarre. "I just wish someone could put me in a coma for six months, or for however long it takes for it all to be over. I just don't want to know about it anymore. I'm sick of it. I'm scared that even if I do start to get better, who's to say that I won't go down hill again in a few months (that seems to be how it has been for me up until now)." "Last night I had my first nightmare since being admitted. The nurses had the audacity to tell me that it means I must be getting better! When I told Dr Button about the nightmare, he said the content of dreams is not important. That is totally opposite to what Paul and Carolyn have been telling me. Why can't there be consistency? No wonder I am confused and frustrated… and wanting to die." Next came my full introduction to the world of benzodiazepines, which I was allowed to have to control my growing anxiety. I had used Diazepam during the previous year, especially leading up to the wedding, but now more were added to my daily cocktail of drugs. "I'm sure all these new drugs are getting to me. Regardless of how drugged and drowsy I feel tomorrow, I am definitely getting up." "Paul came in to see me today. Spent an hour here. We talked about my fears for when I eventually get discharged. We also talked about Dr Button telling me that I was bad for his ego, because I didn't respond to ECT. A first for him apparently. Paul referred to that sort of message from a doctor as being sledgehammer therapy. Hey they may as well just have taken a sledgehammer to my brain instead of pumping electricity through it. It certainly would have been cheaper."
99

After two months I was finally allowed home. So much for the intended 10 to 12 days in hospital. I never wanted to be admitted to a hospital again. Never! It was a relief to be going home, but I was also very scared. No one was able to tell me how to cope on the outside. No one could tell me how I was going to live. I left there still feeling suicidal and with instructions from Dr Button that I be watched 24 hours a day. Dave was to hold on to my medication. He must have hidden it well as I later spent hours searching for it. I never found it and I was angry. Really angry. Why should all the control be taken away from me? "One of the best things for me in the last weeks has been having Ted with me. Probably sounds crazy, and I'm sure the nurses must think I'm crazy – they come in here at night to do their hourly checks, and here I am tucked up in bed, with the light on and clutching on to Ted for all I'm worth. I think Dave brought him in here in about the second week. Somehow he ended up staying. Ted is something safe for me. A support when there is nothing else. Something to hang onto when everything seems strange and unfamiliar." The problem with being in hospital was that I was not able to talk to anyone about how I was feeling. In some ways it felt like a glorified hotel with nurses as housemaids. They didn’t know how to talk to me, nor did they have the time. The only doctor I saw was Dr Button who seemed only interested in medication and ECT. And he didn’t really know what to do with me. "I'm finally at home again. Very much on edge. Have eaten far too much tonight. It doesn't seem right being here. As if I don't belong. I thought I'd be glad to be home, but actually my hospital room seems more like home now. Tonight Dave and I did our Easter shopping (it was day before Easter 1995). All that pushing and shoving. Got me thinking, what's the point? Do I want to live
100

in a world like this? The answer is no, and I feel guilty about that. I just can't see that this is a world that I want to be a part of." “Craig rang today. He had more to say from his letter. It made me realise even more just how much my illness is affecting everyone else. He said that Dad is barely coping with stuff right now. He is hurting so much about it but doesn’t talk about it. Craig also thinks that Mum is actually coping a lot better than Dad. She can at least admit her pain, even though she doesn’t know what to do with it.” “The pain I am causing everyone is just tearing me apart. I want to save them from it, stop them hurting. But how can I do that when I feel so bad myself? My only thought is that the only way to end their pain is to end my life. They won’t have to agonise, hurt and have sleepless nights over their daughter, sister, wife, or friend. Sure they will hurt, but I’m sure that in the long run they would be better off.” “Got a letter from Dad today. He said “I know you are going to be well, and I am thankful for the loving support of so many for you and us, but I just wish that wholeness was fulfilled now and that we didn’t have to wait until some tomorrow.” I just wish I knew the date on which the pain would go!” "My success/failure measure for each day is how many Halcion I take to get through the day. Right now I guess you could say I'm failing." Dr Button’s next idea to deal with his difficult patient was that I change medication and try something similar to Lithium. It was designed for people who had regular ups and downs, and was a new medication which he had just been to a conference about. I felt like a guinea pig. I refused it. I wanted something that would definitely work. There was no way I was going to try yet another thing.
101

I responded to his suggestion by stopping my medication completely. I hated being reliant on drugs and seeing they didn’t seem to be doing anything I just stopped taking them. I had been told that 80 per cent of people with depression respond to medication. Of those that don’t, 80 per cent respond to ECT. I hadn't responded to either, so I could see little point in continuing with them. No one knew I stopped, but my cover was blown when shortly after I went downhill again and ended up back in hospital. This time I was sharing a room. My room-mate was Hannah. She was 17 and there because of anorexia. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have an eating disorder, but could see all her symptoms mirrored in me. She wasn’t any smaller than I was and what’s more, I was being treated like her. The only difference was that I didn’t have to see the awful man from the Eating Disorders Team (I was still on their waiting list). He came in to see her regularly and I couldn’t believe how cruel he seemed to be. I hated him on her behalf. “I have no control, no dignity. I am weighed naked every day. I am watched while meals are forced down. I am watched as I shower. My life is not my own, and what I cling onto is no life at all.” “The pressure is on us. The terminal patient across the hall is really bad. His family have been here all day, and while we’re so close to what’s happening, we don’t know anything. A few times today we thought he had died, he eventually did. Oh how we wish it could have been us.” I watched out the window today Trapped in a room, with no will to live.
102

I watched as an Undertaker drove up, And wheeled an empty gurney inside. Obviously here for a ‘pick up’ One of the oldies must have died. Did the person want to live or die? Did they know that they were dying? Is it a relief, or is it grief for those who remain? I watched out the window And saw the Undertaker come out, This time with a body on the gurney, wrapped in a bag. Another one gone. As I watched, it all seemed ironic – I am here in a ward of people, All with no will to live. Yet those who die are just those Who have just run out of time. I watch from my room, as their lives end They would probably trade places readily With the youth held by those in my ward … and I would readily volunteer to be Another one gone. Notes

1. Kidman, Fiona, 1996, Ricochet Baby, Vintage New
Zealand, p.130-131.

103

Chapter 11 – Grapes and Thorns
“Beware so long as you live, of judging people’s appearances.” La Fontaine

Yet again I was discharged, still feeling suicidal. There seemed little they could do for me. And much as I was scared of going home, I hated hospital. I felt it was a complete waste of Craig’s money. I wasn’t getting better, and it would have been a lot cheaper to send me to a hotel. There was no one to talk to about how I was feeling, and I was scared of what people would think of me anyway. The nurses didn’t know what they were doing when it came to me. Dr Button had told me that my illness was a chemical imbalance, not a psychological illness. While in hospital I couldn’t see my therapist Carolyn, and so I just sat with all these feelings trapped inside of me. Paul came to see me when he could, and that was the only time I got to talk properly. The rest of the year saw me in and out of hospital again and again. Re-admission was for safety, but it had got to the stage where I didn’t know how to live outside of hospital. I was lost. Didn’t belong in hospital, nor did I belong at home. During all this time, I was hearing that my father was just not coping with my illness. He worried I would kill myself and wondered why my illness was going on for so long. He worried about the allegations, which had been made against him, and even though they were unfounded, he worried about how they would affect both his role as a father and his job. From what I heard, he was unable to talk to any one about how he was feeling. When he forgot his own wedding anniversary I knew that I was really affecting him. I cried so much. Growing up, I was always closer to Dad than Mum. I could see him hurting but couldn’t do
104

anything about it. Seeing him suffer so much left me more convinced that death would be the best option for everyone. It would be over. “First day home again. It was an okay day – away from that prison and even control of me eating. I got pissed off with Dave again this morning. He wanted to take my hay-fever nasal spray off me. I’m hardly likely to overdose on that. Eventually I realised that handing it over would make him feel better and let me off the hook for a while. He’s got it now. Anything to keep the peace.” “You know the hardest thing about all this is that I look normal. It’s a hidden illness. To look at me, there’s nothing wrong with me. So people see me and think I’m better. But I’m not. I feel like crap. There isn’t a day when I don’t think about killing myself.” “Craig arrived home from Zambia today for good. It was so great to see him. His comment about my weight gain since the wedding hurt. I’m determined to lose the weight these new drugs (Amitriptyline) are putting on to me. From today, I’m going back to eating one small meal a day. Anyway apparently Mum wants Craig to do an assessment of me. She wants to know how I really am. Yeah, but could she handle the truth?” “Weird things are happening to me. I can hardly walk straight. I went down to buy some bread yesterday but had this strange feeling of not really knowing where I was. Today I decided to bike down to Royal Oak Mall. Who was I trying to kid? I can’t walk straight so how did I think I would be able to stay on a bike. I had already decided not to drive at the moment, so riding a bike down the busy Manukau Road was really intelligent. Sure enough I fell off. No wonder I’m like this right now. I take 14 pills every day, each one handed out by Dave.”
105

“Today I searched the house for two hours, looking for my medication. All I could find were iron tablets, which I’m meant to take but don’t. Where the hell is it? He must have the rest at work.” “Finally plucked up the courage to read the letter that came from Mum the other day. Dave had read it, and felt at the time that I shouldn’t read it. I can see why. The usual. No idea at all. I wonder what they’ll think when I’m gone…Then there was Craig’s letter, which included a report on his trip down to Mum and Dad. The first thing I saw when I opened it, was in the middle of the page. It said ‘the fear that one morning the phone will ring and they’ll find they no longer have a daughter’. I just couldn’t take it and promptly bawled. The concept that they would no longer have a daughter. It seems to me that if I were to die, it would be as if I had never been born. That they never had a daughter. Suddenly all I can think of is what it will be like when I’m not here. I feel numb. I don’t know what to think, but it’s tearing me apart.” “Dave’s birthday today. I had promised him a few weeks ago, that I’d make it until today. Done.” “Saw Dr Button again today. Shit. It was a disaster. He was trying to explain something about my brain, which sounded like Japanese to me. When I said I didn’t understand, he replied that there was no way he could put it any simpler than it already was. I think he loves having the power over people who don’t understand. It puts him in control. Why can’t he treat me like a bloody human being?” After that I had many hospital admissions through out the year, when things became too much. I’d either be admitted to Cornwall Park again or to the Connolly Unit at Auckland Hospital. There were many late night visits from Paul, visits by the Mental Health Crisis team or trips to A & E to be assessed. There was always a
106

battle to find a bed. That seemed the most crucial thing – not how sick I was, but whether there was a spare bed anywhere. In August Paul finally convinced me to give Ashburn Clinic another go. I was put on their waiting list but it would be seven months before there would be a space available for me. During the middle of that year, after my eventual return home from hospital, forbidden thoughts of another kind began. I had begun self-harming, or self-mutilation. I had just come home from hospital for the third time. I came home on a Friday, and Dave went away that night for a weekend’s break. He’d had enough and needed (and deserved) a break. On the Saturday morning I had an appointment with my new psychiatrist, Dr Bruce. I had pretty much stopped eating again by this time, and counted calories religiously. I was consuming about 400 calories a day, and anything over 500 was too much. “I tried to tell him (Dr Bruce) about the food situation. He just didn’t seem to want to know. He seems just determined to convince me to try separating from Dave. I reckon he thinks the sexual abuse allegation has truth in it to, because he says I get upset too easily by it. He says he’s got a can of worms inside of me to unlock, and as he does that, things will get harder for me. I told him that I’m sick of doctors trying to do that, especially when I have no desire to live anyway.” That night I started scratching my arms raw with my fingernails. I would scratch and scratch with no feeling of pain. Eventually I would look down and see the red, raw and bleeding skin. I would realise what I had done and be horrified. It wasn’t until I looked down at it that I would finally feel the pain. The pain was bad, like a friction burn. I was disgusted that I could do such a thing to myself. I had never had an urge to do anything like it, but had now just found myself mutilating my arms. How? Why? Questions flooded my mind.
107

What was happening to me? But then how could I answer those questions, for that would entail admitting to another human being the horror of what I had done. By the next day, I knew I needed help. I wondered about the 24 hour Surgery but couldn’t bear the thought of a strange doctor questioning me. Eventually I decided I would tell my friend Amy. I knew I had to tell someone, and I thought that through her friendship and her nursing training, she must surely know what I should do. I went to Amy’s house. We drank coffee. We talked for an hour and a half, but I couldn’t find the words to pull up my sleeves and show her the damage of the night before. I left having not told her. I think that I was so disgusted by what I had done that I just could not bear to admit it. A few days later I was able to summon up the courage to tell (and show) Carolyn, Paul and Dr Bruce, what I had done. In the meantime, I had found the urge to continue scratching, stronger than I could fight, and so the damage was becoming greater. My arms were covered in raw wounds. Both Paul and Dr Bruce told me that what I was doing was good, although dangerous! I couldn’t believe my ears. How could such mutilation be good? How could the pain I was now living with be good? How could living life, continually keeping my arms covered out of shame (it was easy at that time during winter) be healthy? They said it was good, because perhaps through this I would start to express my feelings. “I yelled at Paul today and he had to do everything to stop me from walking out. He thinks the mess on my arms is good! He’s got to be kidding! And he said he’s glad that Dr Bruce is concentrating on the psychological issues, rather than the biological issues that Dr Button favoured. I complained to him
108

that he often chooses to talk to Dave rather than me. I feel like the bloody family dog! He told me that it’s a dilemma for him, as I don’t always know what is best for me.” “My wrists and arms are a mess. Dave thinks it was a suicide attempt – it wasn’t. They’re sore and I’m ashamed. Anyone who sees this will think the same as Dave.” Dr Bruce gave me a similar line on the self-harm but Carolyn was able to put more perspective on it for me. She was concerned. She said it wasn’t good, but was able to describe a little of perhaps what was going on – why the scratching had started. I had never heard of self-harm before, and my own participation in it had come as a complete shock out of the blue. She talked about the possible reasons why I had started harming myself. Parts of each reason seemed to apply, but there was nothing that I could directly relate to. She wanted me to think about how I felt before I started scratching. We spent time discussing ways to stop myself from doing it, but none of them worked. She suggested a rubber band around my wrist that I had to flick when I felt the urge to scratch. That didn’t work, it just became another way to hurt myself. My actions brought out all kinds of fears for both Dave and me. Perhaps that is mostly because none of the textbook reasons for self-harm, ever totally fitted the picture for me. Sometimes I knew that I was scratching or knew that I wanted to scratch, but at other times I had no idea what I was doing. Suddenly I would look down and then see, and feel the pain. It was bizarre. In spite of the therapy, the self-harm went on. Sometimes more often than others, but I never fully understood what was going on. Sometimes it would happen when I was angry, but other times it
109

would just happen out of the blue. It was always when I was alone. That was the only common denominator. As summer approached, the sheer embarrassment and shame of bearing the scars to the world was sometimes enough to stop me scratching. I knew what I thought of the state of my arms. My arms looked terrible. Actually I spent most of summer wearing clothes with long sleeves, conscious of making sure the sleeves fully covered the scars! Most people never knew of this side to my illness. I kept it well hidden, or as well as I could. To deface one’s body the way I was doing was not something I thought anyone would understand. Dave struggled to understand. We both knew that others would think what he had initially thought – suicide attempt. “Right now I am inwardly struggling hard. On the outside I obviously appear better as I keep being told that I look better. I think that’s because my daily drug intake has gone down, and I’ve just lost 10 kilos in the last month. In the meantime I feel like shit. I feel so misunderstood. More than ever. The state of my wrist makes me feel like a freak (I had carved a cross into my wrists believing that the cross – in Christian terms – was killing me). What’s more I have had constant headaches for weeks, a sore throat, and in spite of physio twice a week my back is still killing me. I am living on painkillers, much more than I should. I don’t care.” “I went and hid at the movies this afternoon. Only about 10 of us there. I felt like a truant – hiding from school. Sitting in the theatre scratching. My wrists hurt, they look disgusting but there is no desire to stop.” “Tonight Dave and I watched a television documentary about depression. For a change it was pretty realistic. It introduced depression as being the worst illness known to mankind. They
110

showed ECT being administered and Dave wanted to know how I felt about it. Too personal to be able to put words to it. It reminded me of it all. The doctor on one side of me, the anaesthetist on the other. The machines each of them had. The pads attached to each side of my head, on my temples. The pulse monitor attached to my finger. The nurse, there to watch the monitor. The general anaesthetic being pumped through the needle, and quickly drifting into oblivion.” “My constant question remains, how do I cope with this, how do I survive it? I get told that no one is going to let me die, but then no one is telling me how to survive. But then I know that I can’t kill myself right now. Steve and Claire are still overseas and I promised I wouldn’t do anything while they were gone. Two weeks to go.” “Back at physio today. She thinks my back seized up while in hospital for so long.” “More arguing with Dave tonight. As far as he is concerned I am drinking too much. He thinks I’m becoming too dependent on alcohol and paracetemol. I wish it wasn’t this way. Dave is the one who is always on the receiving end of my anger, even though usually he doesn’t deserve it. I just can’t stand life, and because he’s always here, he always cops it.” I was becoming too dependent on drinking. Dave was concerned about what he saw me drink. It wasn’t that much. Maybe a couple of glasses of wine a night. What he didn’t know was just how little I was eating through out the day, or about the vodka bottle hidden upstairs amongst my clothes. I knew he’d have a fit, if he knew I was having more than he saw. “I came so close again this morning, to topping myself. Dave was at work and everything seemed so pointless. I think the only thing stopping me is a fear of failure. I’m not going through that again.
111

When I do it, it has to be done properly. I still wonder about the whole ‘life after death’ thing, but then I’ve got to the stage where I just don’t care.” “Saw Dr Bruce again today. I hate him!” “Both Paul and Dr Bruce have commented on the way I don’t really talk about how bad I really feel. I know this. No matter what I say, it doesn’t seem enough to have any one understand me. Dr Bruce has been talking about dissociation, something to do with an ability to separate different levels of consciousness. He thinks that’s why I’m still having problems with my memory.” “Got a letter today from Anthony’s mother. She is dying and has about a month to live. I have cried and cried today. I wish she could have my life, and I could die in her place.” “Death is a favourable option right now, but I’ve already taken so many laxatives tonight that I doubt an overdose would work. It would probably just go straight through.” “More than ever I find myself clinging to Ted. Scared to leave home – what if the house burns down and he goes too. What would I do? How could I be, without him? It’s like Ted is the only thing I can totally count on now. He’s always there and I don’t seem to hurt or offend him, like I seem to do to everyone else. So why is it a teddy bear that keeps me alive?” “We’re off to Palmerston North and Wellington tonight. How am I going to survive that? I certainly won’t be able to smuggle any drink with me – and I desperately need it to get through the day.” “Dr Bruce blew my mind out of the water today. He doesn’t think I suffer from depression! It’s only been two years. That's what everyone has told me I've got until now. Apparently I display some of the symptoms, but not all. Also, I haven’t responded to
112

treatment. I’m off to have a brain scan now, and he’s taken me off anti-depressants. Just Halcion and Diazepam now – which he says I’ve been on too long. So what have I got? I remember the words ‘dysfunctional’, and ‘severely distressed with some depressive symptoms’. But it all means nothing to me. What I did hear though was that he said that if I left my marriage, probably all the symptoms would disappear!” “The scan results came back today. Normal. At least I know that I do have a brain.” Shortly after that I had yet another new psychiatrist, Dr Johnson. She was part of the public mental health system. The Crisis Team had seen me while Dr Bruce was away. Eventually they had put me back in hospital, and the politics of the system now meant that I couldn’t see Dr Bruce again. “I suspect that this will turn out to be a bad decision. Not that we had much choice. And from experience so far, I suspect that dealing with the public system will take more energy than I’ve got. I’d rather curl up and die.” “Carolyn told me today that she and Paul are worried that I will get labelled as a ‘personality disorder’ by the public system. Apparently that’s what happens when there are no easy answers and when treatment doesn’t work. And when you get that label, they start to take less notice of you. Bloody great!” “Dr Johnson put two choices to me today. Either I go back to Ashburn Clinic, or I kill myself!” My thoughts overcame any sense of duty to my friends, family, and husband at the end of that year. I wasn’t sleeping, and suicidal thoughts plagued my mind twenty-four hours a day. Christmas was getting closer and I couldn’t bear the thought of facing another Christmas. Carolyn tried to encourage me to fill
113

my mind with other thoughts when I found myself trapped in thought of death, but she never told me how. How could I just switch it off? Actually all I wanted to do was switch off my mind altogether. I was sick of thinking, tired of thoughts going over and over and over. And so another overdose. I didn’t set out to kill myself, and knew by the quantity of tranquillisers and alcohol I was swallowing that I wouldn’t achieve death. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted to sleep without lying awake thinking. I wanted sleep, uninterrupted by nightmares. I just didn’t want to think any more. Dave was shocked when I admitted my actions to him later. Not sure why I even told him. When I confessed what I had done to my GP Paul the next day, he was keen to admit me to hospital straight away. For my honesty I had visions of an ambulance pulling up outside the surgery. My imagination was running away with me, and I was sent home to wait the arrival of the Crisis Team. The Crisis Team eventually arrived several hours later to assess me, and arrange admission to hospital. It was Friday night, and it turned out that all the beds were full. There would be no admission this time. Phew! Instead, they removed from the house the medication I admitted to having, and undertook to deliver my daily dose each night (of course I still had a small secret stash for the odd emergency). It would also be a chance for them to reassess the situation. I’m not entirely sure what would have been worse. Hospital, or to be yet again on the routine of being handed my medication each night like a child. To add to my feelings of being mistrusted, the Crisis Team put a nurse in the house to keep an eye on me, while Dave was at work.

114

“I finally tipped the last of the vodka down the sink. There wasn’t much left anyway. Not sure why I did it. Partly it’s because I could see what I was doing – trying and occasionally succeeding in dulling the pain. Partly too, because of the shit that I’d be in if Dave had ever found out. Whatever the reason, it has gone and no one knows it was an issue. That’s not to say though that alcohol has gone totally. Not at all. I just need something to keep me going. I’ve got new medication now too – Thioridazine. Not exactly sure what it is, but I sure feel out of it, when I have it. Suits me just fine” It wasn’t long before I tried again. This time setting out to die. Over the previous weeks it had been getting more and more difficult to keep on going. I felt stuck and without a way ahead. Death was my only way. Previous attempts had been almost ‘spur of the moment’ decisions when things got too tough, but this one was different. It was when I woke up that morning that I decided that I would do it. In some ways it was quite calculating. To kill myself this time was my only aim. It was no plea for help or attention, and no effort to just get some rest. Life had worn me down, and now I had to put behind me any thoughts of how others would feel and do what I needed to do. End it. It was two days before my mother’s birthday and after swallowing a large number of pills, I decided to phone her to say hello. This was an unusual thing for me to do and I don’t know why I did. Perhaps it was my way of saying goodbye. Somehow she figured that I might have done something. An ambulance and several days in hospital followed. I have no memory of it, but Dave had written his version down: “I got a phone call at work at 2.10pm, from Catherine’s Mum. She had just had a phone call from Catherine and she had told her that she’d taken some pills. I ached as I thought of the argument we had the night before. I had got upset with Catherine and had slammed a
115

door. It must be all my fault that now she’s decided to kill herself. I remember thinking as I drove home, ‘Should have called an ambulance before I left the office – no Catherine may have just taken a few pills. But somehow I knew that wasn’t the case. I raced upstairs. Catherine was still on the phone to her Mum. She finally got off the phone (she wasn’t making much sense anyway) and told her that she had to go to hospital, and that I could drive her there or call an ambulance. But I needed help. I couldn’t do it on my own, so I called 111. The ambulance took ages – seven minutes. We waited. There was a note. This was a serious attempt the piece of paper told me, as I looked at it, but didn’t take the words in. I’d go home and read it later. It would still be there, but would Catherine? Two men arrived with the ambulance. They were nice, calm, reassuring. I thought this would be my first ride in the ambulance. They wouldn’t let me though and told me to follow by car. Auckland Hospital A & E – just before 3.00pm. A nurse took details, but only Catherine could tell them how many pills she had taken. The look on their faces said enough. My wife was lucky to still be alive. I was lucky. She was taken to the resuscitation room. I didn’t want to leave her, but was also glad to be ushered out. How would I cope with seeing her stomach pumped out? This had been a big fear for me for a long time. The waiting room was hard to handle. I couldn’t just sit there. What was happening? I had pushed her to this. I rang Catherine’s Mum to tell her that she would be okay – I hoped. The nurse came looking for me, and I could end this hard conversation.
116

What had happened was serious. I knew because Catherine was hooked up – she had a drip, oxygen and a heart monitor connected to her. What did those numbers mean? Was it a good sign? She was black around her lips. I took that as I bad sign until a nurse explained the charcoal treatment that had been used. She eventually tried to speak, but I couldn’t understand anything. I felt guilty that I couldn’t understand my own wife. I talked to the doctor instead. Catherine was okay. But what did this mean? Okay for now? Or perhaps okay later on? What he meant was that she was not going to die. He confirmed what the nurses’ looks had indicated earlier. This was one of the biggest overdoses he had ever seen. I was in the way. Heaps of people (doctors and nurses) hovering around her. I needed to get out of there but I didn’t like the waiting room. I’d go home. I knew she was in good hands… … After making the necessary phone calls to Catherine’s parents, mine and to Paul, I eventually I realised that I’d have to go back. I didn’t want to go back and face it all. When I did get back they were transferring Catherine to a medical ward. She still had all her tubes, etc. It reminded me of how unwell she was. There was a problem though – air had got into her drip line. The nurse couldn’t correct it, and so she was going back to the emergency room. Eventually it was sorted out and she was transferred into Ward 9C. She was still difficult to understand. The oxygen mask wasn’t helping. She was angry, at everything around
117

her, including me. I was frustrating her, and myself. I was there to comfort her, but wasn’t doing a very good job. I may as well go home again.” As Dave had written, it was apparently one of the largest overdoses that someone had survived at Auckland Hospital. I didn’t care though. All I cared about was that it hadn’t worked. I was angry. Angry at everything and everyone!

118

Chapter 12 – Staying Alive
“The self same well from which your laughter
rises was oftentimes filled with your tears The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Coming home from hospital had a strange feeling about it. I had only just been told what I had done (I couldn’t remember it), and now I was discharged. Coming home was almost like coming to a new place, but somewhere familiar at the same time. I remember coming home from the hospital and looking out the window at my treasured garden. It was only small. A few indoor pot plants, and then an array of plants in terracotta pots outside in our small courtyard. Most of these were roses that I had carefully tended and nurtured into full bloom for the summer. They had been something for me to concentrate on over the past months, and it had been good to see their growth, when I could see little good in anything else. But now my plants were dead! It was supposed to be me who was dead. But I had been unlucky enough to live, and as if to rub salt in the wound, the flowers were dead. Everywhere I looked my previously healthy plants were dead. Why not me? If they were allowed to die, why couldn’t I? Damn it. The doctors said that I was lucky to survive. I didn’t feel lucky! Surviving had not been my aim and my failure to succeed stayed with me for a long time. There was little thought for what I might have done to other people, only my failure to achieve my goal. I hated being alive, and I desperately needed to talk about what I had done. While I was medically fit to leave hospital, I knew that psychologically I wasn’t. I felt incredibly unsafe, and only wanted
119

to try again. Dave also didn’t feel happy with me being at home. He was sure that it wouldn’t be long before I tried again. I had only been sent home because the Connolly Unit couldn’t take me, and I didn’t need to be in a medical ward any longer. A couple of days later though, I was readmitted to Cornwall Park Hospital. In my mind I had to come to terms with what I had done, but it seemed that no one wanted to help me. Back in hospital again, I went over and over what had happened. I knew that this time had been different. Of course the overdose was much bigger than before, but it was also different because I really wanted to die this time. To die was my sole aim. Of course the problem was that suicide requires careful planning and a clear head, neither of which I had particularly much of when acting on my suicidal feelings. I had planned it all day. I had decided that at 2.00pm I would do it. Dave got the phone call at 2.10pm so I guess I must have been pretty much on target. I also left a note for Dave this time. It was something to do with that I loved him and didn’t think he deserved to have to live with the hell of my illness. This way he would be better off. It would hurt for a while, but ultimately he’d be better off. What went wrong was the phone call to Mum. As far as I was concerned I certainly didn’t ring her because I’d changed my mind. Actually I still don’t know why I rang. Some of my family and Christian friends put it down to God’s intervention to save my life. The doctors told me that it was something to do with the drugs having an effect and producing a loss of inhibitions. He said it often happens. It’s almost like you’re drunk and you make irrational decisions. I don’t know whose theory was right. The only thought I had about it was that if it was God’s way of
120

intervening, why hadn’t he intervened a whole lot earlier? Why wait until my life is on the line? I don’t know the answer. “Everyone is happy that I’m alive and that I didn’t die. Everyone says they’re so pleased I’m okay. The problem is that I don’t feel like that. I wish I were dead! I want to kick myself that I ever made that phone call to Mum. And it’s beyond me to smile and agree that yes it’s great I’m alive. But then I can hardly say that I don’t think it’s great to be alive.” “Got a letter from Craig today. He was really upset by what I’ve done but is also really scared that as he put it, I'd achieve my own destruction before help is available. He went on to plead with me to stay alive.” I needed to talk about all this. Talk about what I had done and how I was feeling now. But none of the hospital or psych staff wanted to know. If suicide was mentioned I’d just be asked if I was ‘safe’ at the moment. The visiting psychiatrist told me that I was being unrealistic if I thought anyone would talk more about it with me. I was told that I just had to get over it, and get on with my life. For the next couple of months I was in and out of hospital. Generally I’d have about four days in, and then get discharged until the next crisis. It was called respite, and the maximum time allowed was four days. I didn’t know where I was. I still wanted to be dead. Several times the community psych team staff suggested separating from Dave. Something I still wasn’t prepared to consider. Another time they suggested committing me. Up until then I had just assumed that was for violent people. I hadn’t had any idea that I was eligible for a compulsory trip to hospital.

121

Meantime I had stopped eating again. My weight had dropped further. The only thing I liked about being in hospital was that it seemed incredibly easy for me to avoid eating. “Of course I am trying to keep my eating a secret. It seems to be working so far. The last thing I want is to be told I have to put on 10kgs or whatever. By keeping it all a secret, I can keep the control. One day I know it will come out and then I’ll have to face the music. After all if I go to Ashburn Clinic … or if Paul puts me on the scales … or if Dave finds the laxatives … then my secret will be revealed. It’s like a time bomb. Just ticking – but I know it will go off one day.” In March I was finally sent back to Dunedin. Ashburn Clinic was therapeutic community, very different from a normal hospital. Patients took part in all aspects of the running of the place, from cleaning toilets, peeling potatoes and doing dishes to working together to address the issues that had brought us all there. There was lots of talking, and sometimes that was really hard. Often things from a patient’s past were replayed in the community we now lived in. This was supposed to be a good thing, as it would give us a chance to address things we previously hadn’t. That was the way we were going to get well. While there, I concentrated on looking at the reasons for my depression but worked even harder at maintaining my ‘secret’ eating disorder. I also worked hard to prove that my marriage was not the reason for my depression. Somehow my eating disorder was rarely talked about, and if it did come up, I always adamantly denied it, even though I was getting thinner and thinner. I quickly worked out that breakfast was the easiest meal of the day to skip, and actually never ate breakfast the whole time I was there. Lunch was also easy to avoid, as all the staff were in meetings at that time, and so no one would notice if I
122

didn’t arrive in the dining room. Dinner was a bit harder to skip, but it always depended on what staff were on. Some staff were easy to fob off or hide from. Others were harder. So if I ate anything at all, it would be dinner. I had used this same routine at home to fool Dave into thinking I was eating. Because he saw me eating at dinnertime (no matter how small the portion) he seemed to just assume that I ate during the day while he was at work. The person I was closest to there was also suffering from anorexia, but to me she was much worse than I was. While encouraging her to eat I did my best to avoid food altogether. She could see what I was doing but I had no idea. I still didn’t want to accept that I had an eating disorder so saw nothing wrong with my avoidance of food. On my admission sheet anorexia had not been listed, and therefore it took a while to be picked up on. Anorexia started for me as a diet to lose a little weight but it took on a life of its own. I don’t mean to suggest that this is how it is for every sufferer, but it was for me. It overpowered my life even though I couldn’t, or didn’t want to see it. I discharged myself from Ashburn Clinic and came home 16 weeks later. The pressure had become too much and I had to escape. They wanted me to do things and consider feelings I didn’t want to look at. They wanted me to look at my marriage. I wasn’t going to do that. They wanted me to start addressing my anorexia but I didn’t want to do that either. I ran under the pretence that I was feeling much better, and that my family was running out of money to pay the fees. By the time I got home, my BMI was down to 16. As part of my discharge, I was referred to Auckland Healthcare’s Segar House, which ran day psychotherapy programmes. Apparently I hadn’t been referred to this before as Dr Johnson thought that the intensive psychotherapy would push me closer to
123

suicidal thoughts. She had thought Ashburn Clinic would be better for me as at least I would be in a safe environment there. I was accepted at Segar House for the two day per week programme, after a 13 hour assessment, conducted over several days. My place was conditional on my weight. If I lost any more weight I would have to leave the programme. From then on I felt that I was constantly watched. As if every time I went, the staff would look me up and down to see if my weight had gone down. I also returned to seeing Carolyn on a weekly basis. She also insisted that she would not see me if my weight went down any further, and if I didn’t see Paul once a week. Suddenly it seemed that my weight was the big issue, and one that I couldn’t avoid. Paul referred me to the Eating Disorders Team at Auckland Hospital, but as they didn’t see my condition as life threatening, I was put on a six-month waiting list. I had no desire to see them anyway. Aside from the stories I’d heard already, I couldn’t see how they were going to help me. They apparently concentrated on the family environment, and used family therapy as treatment. At 31 that hardly seemed appropriate to me. As it was, at Segar House I was way out of my depth. There were six women on the course run by two staff. None of the women had ever been in psych hospitals, and I seemed much sicker than they were. I struggled to keep going. The only thing that kept me there was my case manager, Pete. He seemed to understand me much better than others had previously. He had different theories as to my diagnosis though. He believed dissociative disorder, personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) fitted better than depression. He felt that until the dissociative disorder was addressed, then the depression would not respond to treatment. Paul and Carolyn battled on my behalf to avoid these labels. While the three of them disagreed, I couldn’t see what the big deal was. As far as I was concerned, a
124

diagnosis only confirmed for me that there was really something wrong with me, and that it wasn’t all in my imagination. All it was, was a label. At the beginning of the year I had gone to Ashburn Clinic with a diagnosis of chronic, severe depression. Three months later I had come out of Ashburn Clinic with the diagnosis of treatment resistant depression, eating disorder (restrictive type) and personality disorder (mixed). By the time I left Segar House at the end of that year, the eating disorder seemed to be forgotten and my diagnosis was depression (mild to moderate), complex PTSD and dissociative disorder (not otherwise specified). It kept changing, so to me it meant nothing anyway. All I cared about was having someone that understood me. Meantime as Pete, Paul and Carolyn fought, I was severely underweight, having lost more kilograms since returning from Ashburn Clinic. As I was on the waiting list of the Eating Disorders Team, Paul had the unenviable task of keeping me monitored. Much as I hated him for it, I knew that he had the pits of a job. I was doing nothing to increase my weight, but rather continued to try to lower it. I would walk for several hours a day, and would eat as little as possible. I looked terrible, with bones sticking through my clothes. My hair was falling out, and I was freezing cold constantly. I could do nothing to get warm. I was badly constipated. All apparently because of my low body weight. While struggling to keep going with the Segar House programme, I seemed to be making good progress with Carolyn. While she wanted to focus on my weight, and we had many tense conversations about it, I still wasn’t prepared to talk about it, much less do something about it. “I can’t stand it! He (Paul) wants me to be putting on weight. I’m meant to go in there tomorrow and show the weight I have gained. But that’s the last thing I want. I would rather go in
125

there and have lost weight – in spite of the hell there would be to pay for that. I know it is the opposite of what is required. I panic about weight gain. It is so hard to put into words the battle that goes on inside of me. I just can’t explain it to them. I eat, but then I panic … and so I starve myself again. They expect me to gain weight, but it’s just not that simple. It’s tearing me apart and I can’t stand it.” “I am so confused. My friends tell me that I look good and that I’m looking really well. Then I have Paul and Carolyn on my back about weight, anorexia and hospitalisation. I feel so confused … and totally alone. Physically I feel like shit – really tired, achy and always cold. I know why that is, but I just can’t make myself do anything about it.” While not able to face the whole anorexia issue, what I was starting to face was that something was wrong with my marriage. Having returned from a single life in Dunedin, I had struggled to cope with being back with Dave. He didn’t seem to understand how I felt. I wasn’t enjoying my marriage at all, and for the first time could start to admit it to myself. It seemed to me that we got on better when I was having bad days. If I was having a bad day, I wouldn’t disagree with Dave. I wouldn’t even try to hang onto my sense of self on a bad day, so everything was much smoother. “Heavy duty talking with Carolyn today about our marriage. It feels to me like me being sick suits Dave as it fulfils his need to be in the caring role. It’s no longer an adult-to-adult relationship, but rather seems to me like a parent-to-child relationship. In spite of what many people have said along the way, I do believe that the relationship can change. I think it can work – if we’re both prepared to work at it. Carolyn asked how long I’d give it to change. Would I still be waiting for it to change in 40 years time?”

126

This was a really hard one for me. Deep down I knew things were wrong for us, and had been pretty much right from the start of our marriage. But I had grown up with the belief that marriage was forever. Many people along the way had suggested separation, but I couldn’t consider that. It didn’t fit with what I believed. No matter how much was wrong with my marriage, I had to stay in it. Now though, I was starting to see glimpses suggesting that it was all wrong. I had to take responsibility for my part in it being wrong, but I wasn’t going to take the full blame. Because I could see that I had contributed to where Dave and I were now at, I had to give myself some time. I decided to give it two years. Time enough for both of us to make the necessary changes. Time to see if I could make it work. What I couldn’t do was tell anyone about my decision, especially not Dave. This is something I had to do. It was me who was getting it wrong. Carolyn had raised the issue so I talked to her again about it. She felt my decision was a good one. She felt that having come to this decision was the hardest part. I’d faced the worst apparently. Now I just had to hang onto the sense of self I was developing.

127

“Saw Paul today. I told him that I feel like I’m doing better overall (not the weight stuff though) and that the sessions with Carolyn were helping to identify that. He was pleased, but said he’s scared that I’m doing better at the expense of my body. The usual trip onto the scales told us both that I haven’t lost any more weight though. He was pleased, but I have come away determined to lose more.” “If I do it their way and eat more, I end up feeling totally chaotic, out of control and torn apart. I can’t stand that! All they do is see me once a week, fortnight or month and tell me to eat and gain weight. Then they are gone. And I’m left to deal with my feelings. No! I’m not going to do it anymore. I have to protect myself from that chaos.” “Argument with Dave again tonight. He complained that I didn’t tell him that I had been to see Paul on Monday. Well he didn’t ask, did he? And there was nothing that I felt he needed to know. I feel like he wants to know absolutely everything. It’s too much. I feel crowded out.” “I look at myself in the mirror and find it near impossible to see the problem. I don’t see myself as too thin at all. I see the opposite. I see flabby thighs, big hips and a fat stomach. I definitely don’t want to weigh any more than I do now.” I had about six months free from hospital admissions and then they started again. By this time Dave and I had moved to Wellington. Dave had a new job and I planned to go to varsity. We had both lived in Wellington before and I still owned a house there. We would be closer to friends and family. Shifting cities held big risks. From my perspective I wondered whether leaving Auckland was just running away. I wondered whether the things that had happened to me in Wellington earlier
128

would haunt me. (Would James and Richard realise I was back and be a problem for me?) I wondered whether Paul and Carolyn were replaceable. Would I cope with full time study? And I wondered what the shift would do to our relationship. I had no answers. A week before we left Auckland, I had my exit interview at Segar House with Pete. And for the first time in a long time, I really felt like someone understood me. “Pete told me that his hunch is that dissociation is what stops me getting well. When I get too close to feelings and when it starts to feel unsafe, I dissociate from reality. And that’s when the confusion happens, and I can’t seem to get beyond the next two words. We talked about my experiences of being stalked by James and Richard. He said he was surprised that I hadn’t talked about this in group. The main reason why I haven’t is that I feel like I talk and talk about this stuff, but I never get anywhere with it. Pete said this is often the experience of PTSD victims. He also said that he thinks the trauma of all this is much bigger than I’ve ever let on. He asked how I felt about returning to the scene (going back to Wellington where the stalking had taken place). He seemed incredibly perceptive to pick up on this. Already, whenever I visit Wellington I only need to drive past certain places and it all comes flooding back (Island Bay, Owhiro Bay and Manners Mall were places to avoid). Much as I’ve felt understood by Paul and Carolyn, Pete’s perspective today was amazing. Finally I’ve discovered some one who can see exactly what’s going on for me… and I’m leaving. Great!” I couldn’t believe my luck, or lack of luck. I had now been on this journey for just over three years, and only just found someone who seemed to really understand. How long would it be before I ever found someone like this again?

129

130

Chapter 13 – Patient Life
"In a strange way we were free. We’d reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity. Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

I arrived in Wellington, at the end of 1996, with the name of a GP but no idea where to turn to for the help I still needed. In the past few months I had been going back down hill and was now back on anti-depressants. I had been having suicidal thoughts again, made stronger after the suicide of an acquaintance. I was just hoping, as was Dave, that being in a different environment would turn things around for me. But I quickly reverted to feeling hopeless and lost. I started selfharming again. It had been some time since I had done it, and I felt angry with myself. All I wanted to do was to run back to Auckland. I was under the public mental health system again, as we couldn’t afford private now that we didn’t want to accept any more money from my family. They had been the ones to pay for those seemingly fruitless months at Ashburn Clinic, and they had paid for a lot of the time I spent in Cornwall Park Hospital. My weekly sessions with Carolyn had all been paid for, and Craig had regularly sent me money. I felt like their expenditure had been a waste. What’s more, I felt like as long as they contributed financially, then they would think they had a right to have their say in my life. Six weeks after arriving in Wellington, I finally got notification that I had got to the top of the waiting list for the Auckland Eating Disorders Team, and that they would now like to assess me. Too late. Also, as I had shifted to Wellington, the Auckland Regional
131

Health Authority would no longer consider funding a return to Ashburn Clinic. Pretty much ever since I had been discharged from Ashburn Clinic, there were constant battles going on behind the scenes to get funding for me to return. Of course I wasn’t convinced that I really wanted to go back … but everyone else seemed to think it was the right thing for me. Now that we had shifted to Wellington, the battle would have to start all over again. I enrolled at Victoria University in late February 1997, my aim being to study tourism and service management. It didn’t go well. I couldn’t handle all the people, or the noise. And the thought of the work ahead of me just sent me into a spin. How the hell would I cope with it? “What have I done? This afternoon I came home from my first day at varsity, brought a bottle of wine on the way home, and then sat down and drank the whole lot within about 40 minutes. I vomited and then when to bed. When Dave came home he woke me up. It was impossible to disguise my state, especially when I vomited again twice shortly after his arrival.” I lasted only two days at varsity, and then I was admitted to hospital again. The decision to hospitalise me was already made, and I was sitting in Mark’s office waiting while he was trying to find a bed. He had left the room and I started to panic. To deal with my panic I went to the toilets and swallowed a bottle of clonazepam (my week’s supply which I had just picked on the way to see Mark). It wasn’t a suicide attempt, although I didn’t understand it. When I went back to Mark’s office I didn’t tell him what I’d done. I just sat and waited for Dave to come pick me up to deliver me to hospital. By the time we got out to Rangituhi Mental Health Unit at Kenepuru Hospital in Porirua, Dave knew something was up. Once I had confessed, I was deposited in an ambulance and sent sirens and all, straight to Wellington Hospital (There was no A & E at Kenepuru). Two days later, I was
132

discharged from the medical ward and sent back to Rangituhi, again by ambulance. “I am still totally out if it. Have slept most of today since arriving here at about 3.00pm. The self-harm is really bad, and my arms are covered in dressings. I’m tired and so anxious. I’m worried about varsity. Dave has brought Ted in tonight and that feels much better. This sure is the flashest looking psych hospital I’ve ever been in. I think it’s only a year old.” “I got searched when I arrived and they took my laxatives off me – although I’ve just found eight they didn’t find.” “Dave took me out for a coffee this afternoon. We bumped into Richard and Sue. I wanted to be sucked into the floor. Here I was, on an outing from a bloody psych ward! Not something I admitted to. Some things people just don’t need to know.” “Eating for today is over. Soup for lunch, which I quickly reversed. Then cauliflower cheese on pasta (the vegetarian option) for dinner. I didn’t touch it. I ate the pumpkin but reversed that as well. They might have confiscated the laxatives when I arrived, but I brought some more back from home when I was out with Dave the other day. No one knows I’ve started to vomit. I eat next to nothing, reverse as much as I can, fill up on coffee and I’m in control!” From February to December of that year, I was admitted to hospital 20 times. I never got back to varsity. It was an endless round of seeing Sharon my psychiatrist, Mark my case manager and admissions to either psych or medical wards, depending on what was necessary at the time. Sharon admitted early on that they had no one on their team with the right expertise to help me. Unless I could go private (something I wasn’t going to consider) all they could do was offer a first-aid type arrangement. Patch it up and hold it all together. Nothing to actually fix what’s inside.
133

During my hospital stays I got to know the system well. There were nurses who thought that people with depression or eating disorders didn’t belong in a place like Rangituhi. In some ways we didn’t, mostly we weren’t hallucinating or psychotic. But there was no where else to put us. I think some of the staff resented the time we took up. “It’s possible to stay in your room all day, only emerging when medication time is called over the loud speaker. Then we all line up and wait our turn. Waiting for our own concoction of pills and liquids, all especially chosen for us by a person with much greater knowledge of such things than us. They hope their mix will work; most of us have given up hope long ago. Of course that is why we are here – we are a risk to either ourselves or to others. As we line up, you see a full range of people. Sure, there are no Khandallah ladies or gentlemen (the rich). I wonder where they go when they become like us. But aside from them, we’re all here. Black, brown and white, male and female, a full range of sexual preferences. There are gang members and timid young people never before exposed to such an environment. Many have been here before, and some have spent time in prison. Some seem to be talking to themselves but they’re really talking to the voices inside their head. Others just stand silent. It amazes me just how many think that they’re Jesus Christ, or sent by God. Those ones usually carry Bibles and ‘preach the word’ to everyone, whether you’re listening or not. Eventually you get to the front of the line and two nurses dispense your quota. Sometimes they check your mouth to make sure you’ve swallowed the pills – there’s always ways to get around that one. If you’re a voluntary patient they can’t force you to take them, but you always know that they can pretty easily commit you. If you’re committed, they can force you. If you won’t swallow, then they can always use a needle.
134

Coming back from surgery having had (and swallowed today) my pills, I check the whiteboard. It tells me Shelly is my nurse this morning. Good. I trust her and she treats me as an adult. There are other nurses on most shifts who seem to prefer to treat everyone as a child. No, even worse. They treat you like you’re not even a human. No room for conversation, just orders shouted at you. Perhaps that’s what a few patients need, but most of us don’t. We need respect and care. I’m on 15 minute ob’s at the moment. It seems like only five minutes between each time a nurse pokes their head in the window of my door to see what I’m doing. As I write a nurse has just looked in yet again. Doctors put you on 15 minute observations (known as 15/60’s) when they think there is a fear of a patient harming themselves or absconding. Both are a possibility for me right now. Hence the 15/60’s. At least I know I’m not forgotten. Small consolation, for what the television would refer to as ‘suicide watch’. The only difference is that I still have my shoelaces. Of course, other times they haven’t just removed the laces, they’ve taken my shoes too. While it is possible to stay in your room, mostly we are chased out of our ‘home away from home’. There are mealtimes of course, and that is another chance to see the variety of people living here. Some want to eat and will eat whatever they can. Quality doesn’t matter at all. Others are more reluctant, but go along to avoid the confrontation with staff. I have learnt how to give the appearance that I have eaten. Some patients always want more, and so I always offer them mine. We just swap plates, and suddenly I have an empty plate in front of me. Many nurses just assume that means I have eaten. I can go for days like this. I also know which nurses can’t be fooled so easily. The quality of the meals in this place depends on what you’re used to. For me, there is no quality. What’s more, the menu is the
135

same week after week, month after month. Every Monday night you know you’re in for fish in white sauce with mashed potato, overcooked carrots and if you’re lucky overcooked broccoli. Still, some people think the food is great and even go back for seconds.” Rangituhi hospital became my second home. Not that I liked it; but I spent so much time there. It was different to psych wards I’d been in before. I guess I had been lucky. Apart from a couple of brief stays at the Connelly Ward in Auckland, I had pretty much avoided the public psych wards. I quickly learnt that public wards were definitely very different from private. It was an education, if nothing else. Much as I could have sometimes mistaken Cornwall Park Hospital for a hotel, there was no mistaking what this was. It was a new building and some of the staff were great. On the surface, it might have seemed to an outsider as an okay place to be. But that was the end of the niceties. For most patients admission meant sharing a room with at least one other patient. That in itself could be a good or bad experience. I had both. To escape your room-mate meant you had to face the communal areas, the smoking room being the most popular. If things got too out of control you were placed in ‘Safe Care’, isolation or ICU (all the same place, just different names to different people). That is, if there was room. This was hell on earth. There was a private hell going on in the mind of every patient there, and when you put all that together, it combined into a whole ward of terror. One of the first things Dave noticed was the lack of visitors. Rangituhi had two visitors’ rooms, where patients could spend time with those that were brave enough to come in. Dave wondered why they were never full, why you could always get a room when you wanted one. It seemed pretty obvious to those of us on the inside. Who would want to come and visit? If anything,
136

people tended to take patients out. That was of course, if you were allowed out. Personally I didn’t really want visitors. It was a hard one. On one hand I needed to know that people cared and accepted me where I was. But I couldn’t handle the questions. I couldn’t handle the thought of friends and family looking at my bandaged hands and arms, and wondering what I had done. Dave came in every night after dinner. At weekends, if I had been good, I would be allowed out with him for a few hours. My favourite visitors though, were Michelle and her three year old daughter Amber. Michelle cared but didn’t over-step the mark by asking too many questions. And Amber didn’t ask any. While Michelle and I talked, Amber would draw me a picture. And when they had gone I would go to the art room and draw Amber a picture. It was easy to be with Michelle and Amber. And in a world where I felt so out of place, it was a welcome feeling to feel comfortable in the presence of others, even if just for an hour. “I think the nurses are trying to trick me. They’re trying to convince me that things will get better. But they’re lying. I know they are. People have been saying that for so long – three and a half years now. One thing I do know is that it’s not going to get better. Perhaps it helps them, if they have that hope to hang on to. But for me? I know there is no hope!” My whole time was spent trying to avoid a trip to ICU, as it is known. Running away, self-harming, suicide attempts, fighting with other patients or staff, not taking medication, not eating, or just answering back to a nurse could all result in a trip to ICU. “I told Dave the attitude of one of the male nurses to me. This nurse accused me of having it off with another patient and said that as a married woman it was disgraceful. (I only talked to the guy.) He really set in to me about everything I had or hadn’t done. Apparently I am just a spoilt bitch who doesn’t even belong
137

here. Dave’s response was to complain – loudly - and the nurse in question’s response was to threaten me with ICU for complaining to my husband.” Escaping from hospital was very tempting. I felt rebellious. I wanted to do everything that a nice, good person wouldn’t do. Being locked in those wards also just made me want to run – so I did. To start with it was easy. The first time I did it was at night, about four days after being admitted. At night time it was easier to avoid being seen once you were out and across the car park. “Dave visited briefly tonight and I decided to go when he left. I just walked out the door just after he did. Quite dissociated I think some of the time. Walked to Tawa (maybe about two kilometres away). Didn’t really know where I was or where I was going. Didn’t take Ted either – just went. A piece of glass lying on the road came in use. Cut my hands to shreds. Finally rang the psych emergency team. My nurse came to get me. Marched back inside an hour and a half later. My hands were dressed and then I sent to think about why I did it. I just felt rebellious. I felt stuck. I had nowhere to go and I definitely wasn’t going to go home. Don’t know where I was going. I avoided Safe Care because it was full.” Two days later I did it again. This time with an accomplice. I felt like doing it all day and had told my nurse so I was surprised to be allowed out on a van trip to Oriental Bay. When we stopped for icecream I just ran for it with Marie, another patient. First we hid down in the boat sheds but we knew we’d be all right because the van only had one nurse (by mistake) and she was heavily pregnant. There was no way she could run after us. Marie wanted to walk up Cuba Street to avoid the places where she thought the van would go looking for us. But Dave worked at the top of Cuba Street and I didn’t want to risk running into him. I wasn’t just running from hospital, I was running from everything, him included. So we took back streets and ended up in Newtown.
138

Marie had a friend living there who we could get drink from. When we got to his house I decided to leave. I carried on walking by myself, through the back streets of Berhampore. I ended up in Island Bay after four hours walking. By this time I had cut myself again, with glass that I’d found lying on the footpath. Hardly hygienic but I didn’t care. I considered walking up the hill to Craig’s but knew that he would be far from impressed and probably wouldn’t know what to do with me anyway. Jacinta was another possibility but with blood dripping down my arms, I knew it wouldn’t be a good look for her kids to see. Eventually with no-where to go I handed myself in to the police. I had no money, and the local police station was closed. My only option was to ring 111. I knew it wasn’t an emergency, but also knew that by then they’d probably be looking for me. When the police arrived I still had the glass in my hand. They made me put it down before they would come near me and then I got a trip to A & E to stitch the cuts in my arm. The police then took me back to Rangituhi. There was already a police report out on me – a missing person – as I suspected. Again I expected Safe Care but again it was full. “I felt good and in control. But with the cutting (I’ve really made a mess) came the urge to hand myself in. I rang 111 and the operator talked to me until the police arrived. I had never stopped to think about the impact on anyone else. Apparently when you go AWOL your next of kin is informed. Dave got phoned at about 3.00pm. To add to that Jacinta came to visit while I was gone and somehow guessed that I had gone. Dave thought the worst.” In some ways hospital was a place of refuge as much as it was a prison. Removed from the demands of life that had driven me there, I was protected from everyday life. Being a hospital patient
139

was a kind of escape. Yes I was sick. I was very sick. But I could run away from having to deal with life. Life as a psych patient takes on its own way of being. I could do things that I would never have considered doing before. All my life I had been a ‘good girl’, never rocking the boat. Now I had permission to yell and scream, refuse to talk or see people, run away. I could do anything I wanted to. Well almost. I just wasn’t allowed to die and I had to take my medication. Sometimes my hospital stays were voluntary but at other times, I was sectioned under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992. I hated that as it took my sense of freedom away. It didn’t really make that much difference in the scheme of things as being sectioned was always hung over me as a threat when I didn’t do what was required. One of those compulsory admissions came as I overdosed while in A & E waiting to be seen by the psychiatric emergency team. I sneaked pills into my mouth one at a time as Dave drove me to Wellington Hospital where we would be seen and swallowed the rest while sitting in the waiting room. The staff were incredulous. Charcoal treatment followed soon after. Not an experience I wanted to go through conscious but I was given no choice. Eventually I was sectioned because I refused to accept voluntary admission. Shortly after this my psychiatrist told me that my character was such that I would always have suicidal ideation. Great! I wondered what the point was in going on. It seemed to me I had even more reason to kill myself. Sometimes the Rangituhi Unit was full and then I could be sent to Mataerangi Unit (Ward 27) at Wellington Hospital. On one such occasion I was in the art room doing paper mache. It was Sunday morning and another patient in the room poured kerosene over himself and lit it. He was quickly covered in flames and both staff and patients rushed to put the fire out. What I remember vividly was the sight of the flames on him and the smell of the kerosene
140

and burning flesh. Some things that go on inside a psych unit don’t help recovery and if anything hinder the return to full mental health. This was one of those occasions and I replayed the scene in my mind for months. They called it post traumatic stress. Another time I was on Ward 27, I was given permission to leave the ward so I set out to go to a local café for a coffee. I got there and couldn’t go in because of all the people there. I just couldn’t face them. So I went to the chemist next door and bought a packet of painkillers. I went and sat in the hospital grounds and swallowed the whole packet (without water). I must have admitted what I did when I got back to the ward as I was swiftly shifted to a medical ward to be given the appropriate antidote. I didn’t even know why I did it. I just did. There were no trips away from the ward once I got back to the psych ward a couple of days later. Around the same time my friend Carol also tried to kill herself. I had met Carol in my many trips to Rangituhi and in spite of Dave’s objection to our friendship (she smoked and she was gay) we had become close. I was in Rangituhi at the time she tried to kill herself. She told me she was going to do it, she even wrote a suicide note to me, and I chose to do nothing. Carol’s mental anguish was enough for me to understand her wanting to kill herself. I understood and only wished I was free to die with her. She didn’t succeed in her goal but did irreversible damage to her heart. I was left with mixed emotion. Should I have tried to stop her? Should I have told someone? Probably but then I could understand her actions and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to stop me had it been me. I tried one more time to kill myself. In December 1997, one night after going to bed early I took a large overdose of medication, swallowed down with the vodka hidden in my drawers. Much to my disappointment Dave found me and I was rushed to hospital to
141

have the charcoal treatment again. I knew nothing of it and woke up the next day in Intensive Care with a case of pneumonia.

142

Chapter 14 – There is a Place
“I felt like a limp onion from which my doctor was peeling every layer of limitation, motivation , self-deceit, pretence, and cover-up. The removal of each layer was excruciating. The core of me now lay naked.” Lillian V. Grissen, A Path Through the Sea.

I returned to Ashburn Clinic in Dunedin for the third time, in February 1998 when my name finally got to the top of the waiting list. The first trip didn’t really count; I only got as far as admission. I'm not sure the second trip counted for much either, as I spent most of the time trying to avoid what I needed to face. This time Capital Coast Health (the Crown Health Enterprise for Wellington) had agreed to pay the bill. Usually it would have been the Regional Health Authority that should pay, but Central Health had refused, and somehow Mark had convinced CCH that I needed to go. Some people thought that as Ashburn Clinic hadn’t worked for me previously, it wouldn’t work for me this time. I too was reluctant to go back. I had failed. How could I go back there? How could I go back to Tony, the psychiatrist and therapist who I didn’t like? I knew that the Ashburn Clinic staff felt I needed to do something about my marriage, and I was strongly against what I thought they wanted – for me to leave Dave. Would going back there mean I had to leave my marriage? I did go back and it was the best thing I could have done. But the first thing I did when I got back was to stop eating. Hospital food is a great disincentive to eating. Ashburn Clinic food was not much different and I made the most of it. I avoided the dining room constantly and soon I had lost weight again. This time no one let it go unnoticed.
143

I couldn’t escape from facing the issue this time, and between staff and other patients I was made to eat. I hated it and I argued constantly, making up stories of what I had supposedly eaten, but the simple fact was that I wasn’t in the dining room with everyone else. There were many times I wanted to leave, just to avoid those extra kilos. The last time I was at Ashburn Clinic, my eating disorder was not known by anyone but Tony. This time everyone knew, it was part of my treatment plan and I couldn’t avoid it. In spite of the attention that was being paid to my not eating I still went many months of eating very little. I could avoid breakfast easily enough, and I used to disappear at lunchtime. At dinner, I claimed that I didn’t like what was on offer (a claim easily believed) and so would eat a bowl of cereal with yoghurt and a banana. I was back to my old habits. To eat even a mouthful was torture. The more people commented on my eating, the more I rebelled. Actually I think that it wasn’t until they dropped that subject and tackled other things in my life, that I started to eat again. And as I got control of other aspects of my life, there wasn’t the need to control my weight to that extent. After a lot of work on myself, I started to accept just how unhappy I was in my marriage. I had to admit that being away from it had been great, but I knew I had to do something, as one day I would have to leave Ashburn Clinic. It was agonising making a decision, and not something I could decide overnight. To leave my marriage went totally against all that I had believed and been taught. Marriage was for life. I could accept that it might not be for life for some people, but for me it was a life long commitment. To consider anything else not only went both against my beliefs but also against the beliefs of many of my friends and family including Dave.
144

In June, my friend Helen died in a car accident. I went back to Wellington for the funeral but didn’t want to see Dave while I was there. Perhaps that was the final straw for me. The following week I had written to Dave and told him I was leaving our marriage. I had also been to a lawyer to begin separation proceedings. In hindsight telling Dave my decision by letter was not ideal. But no way would have been ideal and I hadn’t been ready to tell him while I was in Wellington for Helen’s funeral. I chose the letter as a way to say what I needed to say without interruption. Leaving Dave was far from easy. Dave was a good person and in spite of everything I loved him. The sense of guilt was very real. Firstly for breaking my marriage vows, but also for the quiet sense of happiness that was growing – something I hadn’t known for a long time. Dave bore some responsibility for our marriage but so did I. I had been sick the whole time we had been married. I didn’t have the energy to put into making the relationship work, but now I was beginning to come to the view that it had been wrong right from the start. I had ignored the doubts I had (even minutes before the wedding), and tried to believe that it could work. Now it wasn’t working and what’s more I had come to believe that it was keeping me sick. Actually it was killing me. Starving myself and taking the overdoses was always partly a way to try and get out of an impossible situation and I knew that if I didn’t leave then one day I would succeed in killing myself. I lost both friends and family by ending my marriage. My own family didn’t all agree with what I’d done but they stood by me. I lost Dave’s family who were also special to me. Some friends thought I had done the wrong thing and didn’t want to know me anymore. I got several letters from people who attacked me for what I had done, and some friendships seem to have changed irrevocably. I had done the wrong thing. There were also those from whom I chose to distance myself from out of respect for Dave’s right to friendships.
145

Dave, of course blamed Ashburn Clinic and Tony, saying that they had forced me into leaving him. They didn’t. It was my choice. What they had done is make me look at my life and my marriage. They supported me and waited for me to make my own decision, and then they were there to pick up the pieces afterward. From the first time I saw Tony, that one time in 1994, I knew that he thought my marriage was the problem. Some years later I talked this over with him. He told me that it had never been his intention to let me know his opinion. He reminded me of how it happened. He didn’t say anything so blatant when I first saw him, but after I decided to not go ahead with the admission, he wrote to Paul, the GP who had referred me. In that letter he reported his opinion that there was something in my marriage that was keeping me unwell. He never intended for me to read that letter, but for some reason I eventually saw the letter. At the time the Privacy Act was new and Tony has told me that he would never have written what he did, if he had thought that I would eventually read the letter. At that time what one doctor wrote to another was confidential, never to be read by the patient. Times have changed. When Dave and I read what Tony had written, there were fireworks. How dare he say this!!! Although I don’t remember, apparently our reaction to Tony (by letter) was so strong that he felt his suspicions were confirmed. There was definitely a problem. Tony’s letter had a huge impact on how I felt about my marriage (I was even more adamant that this was not the problem), how I felt about going back to Ashburn Clinic, and how I felt about working with Tony. But I know now that if the letter had not been written, the outcome would have been the same. Actually the end of my marriage may have come sooner, had I not been so determined to prove Tony wrong.
146

Having left my marriage though, I still had to find a way of living again. I slowly began to realise that my sense of self had taken a battering and there was very little of it left. I was living for everyone else, not for myself. I didn’t believe in myself. Coming to this realisation was a turning point for me. I didn’t suddenly learn how to love myself, but perhaps I stopped being quite so hard on myself. Perhaps it was okay to admit to some of my feelings. For years I had not allowed myself to have feelings. When I started therapy, I didn’t even know what feelings were. If asked what I was feeling, I would have no answer as I was so cut off from what was inside. One morning I went to the Unit meeting as normal and apparently kept slouching over on the patient sitting next to me. When it was my turn to speak, only garbled words came out of my mouth. At the end of the meeting I was rushed to see Tony. They suspected that I had taken an overdose. In the next group, music therapy, I again couldn’t make sense of anything, so at lunchtime I was sent to bed. The next day I was told I had to be back in the programme, but I struggled to keep awake. This went on for a couple of days. The staff weren’t sure if I had overdosed or that there was something medically wrong with me, such as a brain haemorrhage. No one ever worked out what happened then. I wasn’t aware of having taken an overdose, but I also realised that I wasn’t aware of most things I was doing. It was all being done on automatic pilot. Eventually I was told that I had been going to sleep on my feelings. In other words, my feelings were too hard for me and so I would literally go to sleep. Could I believe this? During my time at Ashburn Clinic, both Craig and then Mum and Dad came down to take part in what was called family group. In this group members of a patient’s family would join with patients and nursing staff to talk about family issues that may be affecting
147

the patient. It was also a time for the patient to hear from the family what it is like having their child, sibling, parent or partner in psychiatric treatment. The group lasts for an hour and certainly from a patient’s perspective, it seems like a very long and hard hour. No doubt it is for the family too. After all most of them have never before set a foot inside a psychiatric hospital, let alone taken part in such a group. What I learnt from those groups was that I was loved. Over time I knew that the things that had happened and the decisions I was making, would also be testing the love of those around me. Getting sick and staying sick put pressure on those around me, and quietly I thought that one day they would give up on me. Some have but not my family. I thought my suicide attempts would push people away. My decision to leave Dave definitely led people to judge and leave. Taking up smoking would even test them (it, in some ways, was surprising I hadn’t taken this up earlier). Changing who I was, and being the real me would make people leave me. I lost people along the way. Some were people that I was close to, others were just acquaintances that I told myself didn’t matter. But if I am truthful, it all hurt. As for my family? They have stood by me, through everything. They had been willing me to get better even when I’d given up. They kept sight of the person I used to be and held onto hope that one day that person would be restored. It seems that contrary to what I suspected, they love me and they were not going to turn their backs on me. This was a big lesson for me. Being in a therapeutic community is hard work. It’s not like a public psych ward where there is little to do each day except for turning up for meals and medication, smoking and talking to other patients. We had a programme that ran from 9.00am to 5.30pm each day. We didn’t just sit around and learn basket weaving
148

either. Every activity was planned to help us work on the issues that had brought us to Ashburn Clinic. The unit I was in was a self-care type arrangement where there were no staff at night and weekends. We were responsible for ourselves and to each other. There was a doctor on call if necessary but we would often have to deal with problems ourselves. That might mean staying up all night to be with another patient, or deciding as a group what needed to be done to ensure someone’s safety. It was like flatting with 16 other people, with whom you had to work, live and eat together. In November 1998 I heard that my funding from Capital Coast Health had been withdrawn. They believed it was time for me to leave. Tony wasn’t willing to fight to have the decision reversed, and Mark in Wellington couldn’t do anything. My brother Craig paid for me to have one more month and then I left on 16 December 1998. He would have paid for more but I couldn’t allow myself to accept this gift. It was very hard leaving. The place had become my home. I had some very hard times there and sometimes I had been so tempted to just pack my bags and walk out. But on the other hand, some of the best times were there. It’s perhaps hard to imagine that it is possible for the best time of your life to be spent in a psychiatric hospital. A few patients had said this to me along the way, and I always felt sad for them. How could that be the best? I had turned my life around while at Ashburn Clinic. I had fun as well as having really awful times. I had met some wonderful people who understood me. They knew everything about me, probably more than anyone else could possibly know, and they still liked me. I had thought that if anyone saw the real me, that they would run a mile. But these people didn’t.

149

Chapter 15 – Down In the Woods
“Marilyn sits on the floor holding her teddy bear, Patrick. He’s the only safe person left in her life. She can tell secrets to Patrick, and he keeps them to himself. The fur is worn right through under his arm, and there’s a place where she can stick her finger into his insides. She does that a lot these days.” Mike Riddell, alt.spirit@metro.m3

It seems important to stop for a moment, to talk about a very special friend of mine, who I have already mentioned. It’s necessary to understand this relationship if you are to understand my story. As Mike Riddell’s character Marilyn had her teddy bear, I too have a teddy bear. His name is Ted. And he performs much the same job. I guess I have always known of teddy bears but never had any of my own. My friends had them. My brother Steve had one growing up. They were large and small, sometimes expensive and beautiful, some times cheap, old and often dirty. For some, the bears were an ornament on the bed, for others to be played with and for some a bedtime cuddle. I didn’t really know about bears because I had dolls when I was growing up. My dolls were special though and they came to life through my imagination. One of my favourite stories is that of Paddington Bear. Paddington Bear is a small bear who arrives from Darkest Peru with a tag around his neck reading “Please Look After This Bear. Thank you”1. The Brown family find the bear on Paddington Station. They adopt him into family and name him Paddington. The adventures of Paddington Bear begin and are told in a range of books. I like to imagine that Ted’s life began in much the same way. Not that he was abandoned on a railway station but that he found my parents in an airport gift shop and came home with them. My parents bought Ted on their way home from an
150

overseas trip. He came to live with my family and he quickly came to life and had many adventures with my family. It has taken me a long time to realise that other people also sometimes, like me, have an almost imaginary relationship with bears, or dolls. Some are a private friend for the alone times, but also a confidant, with whom to discuss issues when alone or when no one else is likely to understand. They can be to be hugged, to go to bed with, to be talked with, to shed tears with and celebrate with. Some bears are kept in obvious places, like a lady down the road who has her bear sitting in her doorway. He goes inside at night. Others are brought out only when no one else is around. My Ted is more of a private bear. People who know me well know that I have a teddy bear but only the closest family know just to what extent I rely on Ted. When others are around, Ted sits on my bed. I guess no one had any idea just how much I would grow to depend on Ted. I was 14 when my parents went overseas for four weeks. It was the first time they had been overseas together since us kids had been born. Steve and I were both sitting School Certificate that year, and Craig was in his first year at university. Mum and Dad had been away before, at least once a year when they would go off to a church conference. Growing up, we were usually sent to stay with friends while they were away. This time we were left at home with a woman from the church to look after us. It’s important to acknowledge that this ‘babysitting’ arrangement didn’t go well for any of us and we were relieved when Mum and Dad finally came home. When Mum and Dad returned, they brought with them a present for me. A teddy bear. I fell in love with him straight away. Apparently I had asked for a teddy bear although I don’t remember doing so. I guess I just thought that it wouldn’t happen.
151

He was just what I needed. Dolls had been my thing and I loved them dearly. My imagination let me believe they were like real people, and my family played along. My dolls had been put away for a few years before this bear arrived, but I certainly didn’t feel too old for him. This teddy bear wasn’t a flash, expensive bear but that didn’t matter. My parents said later that had they thought he would become so important then they might have spent more money on him. He was cuddly and had a big red ribbon. I tried a few names but he was eventually named Ted. Now over 25 years later, Ted is still important. He’s worn a lot and has had surgery many times, when his seams have come undone. At one stage he had to be restuffed, and he now wears clothes rather than just his ribbon. The clothes cover where his fur is wearing through. He’s had a hard life. To say that Ted has been an important part of my journey sounds ludicrous but it’s true. He’s been very important. Like Marilyn told her secrets to Patrick, I told my secrets to Ted. He heard everything, and was there for many parts of my treatment. He went to hospital with me, and I wouldn’t be parted from him. Often it seemed that Ted was all I had to rely on, even more so than Dave and my family. Leading up to the time Ted came into my life, things had been getting hard. Two years before my family had shifted from Auckland to Wellington. I really struggled with that move and cried constantly in the months leading up to it (I suspect now that I was depressed). I had always been at school with Steve but now I was to go to a girls’ school. Our shift came half way through my third form year and by the time I got there all the friendships had been made. I made friends at the church we were now at but didn’t really make good friends at school for a few more years.
152

Then in the year before Ted arrived I started to have trouble with James who I had gone out with for a while, but now he was starting to stalk and harass me. Wherever I went there was James waiting for the chance to talk to me, to proclaim his love. I have this picture of him sitting on his motorbike just waiting for me to come outside from church, school, friends’ houses. Everywhere, he was there… just waiting for me. Even 19 years later when I came back to Wellington for my friend Helen’s funeral, there he was outside the funeral waiting and wanting to talk to me. Mum has often told me that while I was growing up, she could never ask me about what was going on. I would shut down and not say anything. Her solution was to leave me to talk in my own time, but of course, I didn’t ever talk about the really big stuff. The stuff that really bothered me. That’s where I started to tell Ted everything. He would listen and not tell me off or tell me what to do or how I should feel. He just sat there and listened. That’s what I needed. But Ted was also the object I used to vent my frustrations. For the first few years I had him, he was often beaten and punched, thrown across the room. I don’t remember what my frustration was about, (maybe it was the stalking) but Ted copped it every time. He seemed to be my only way of expressing my feelings. With Steve and me in the same year at school there was bound to be competition. He did much better than me in School Certificate, and while I passed I was certain that he would get through the sixth form and I wouldn’t. So the sixth form became a year of slogging my guts out. I was determined that I would not be left behind. I was a year younger than Steve and my parents thought it would actually be a good thing if I had to repeat a year, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. My work paid off, and I passed and had University Entrance accredited. Steve had to sit and I was
153

so relieved as I was sure that if I had to sit the exams there was no way I would pass. I didn’t believe in myself. Seventh form came and that was a social year for me. I didn’t want to be at school any more. I was not planning to go to university, mostly because what I heard my parents saying was that I wouldn’t cope with it. I wanted to leave school and get a job, maybe looking at Teacher’s College in a year’s time. But I was told I was too young to leave, and while Steve left school half way through the year, I was not allowed to. When I left school finally I went to work at what was then the Department of Social Welfare (now known as WINZ), as a clerical cadet. I applied for Teachers’ College but was turned down because I wasn’t old enough. I never applied again. 1984 was a hard year for my family. My father was forced to resign from his job as a minister of a church. Having grown up as a preacher’s kid, my life revolved around the church. The people in the church we were at were like an extended family to me. Because of Dad’s job we lived away from grandparents and cousins, and so didn’t get to see them very often. Churches filled that gap. When Dad was forced to resign by the other leaders of the church, it felt like the family as a whole was being rejected. We were all hurt by it, but I certainly never talked about. The whole experience changed my life. After several months of unemployment Dad got another job, but it involved a shift to Christchurch. Craig, Steve and I were all working by now, and so our only option was to go flatting. A couple of days before my parents left I found a flat with a friend in Mt Victoria and moved in. I earned $110 per week in the hand and had to pay $78 per week in rent. There was not much left over. Mum and Dad bought me an old car, and suddenly it was just Ted and me, alone. Well that’s how it felt anyway.
154

James and Richard also knew many of my friends. To talk to my friends about anything ran the risk of information getting back to them. They were desperate for any information about me, and knowing this, I tended to keep quiet and not tell anyone anything. Ted was my confidante – the only one I thought I could trust. Over the years, Ted’s importance to me has varied. He has always been close to my heart but sometimes I didn’t need him as much as others. Though I always tended to go back to him when things got too hard. By the time I got sick in 1993, Ted was just the bear that sat on my bed and I cuddled sometimes at night. But the sicker I became the more vital he was to me. By 1995 when I had my first hospital admission, his importance had blown sky high. He was my most valuable possession, and mostly I couldn’t let him out of my sight. He had taken on human qualities, but still keeping that superhuman ability of being able to give me exactly what I needed – unconditional love. The best way to describe Ted and I is to think of the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes. The little boy with a toy. The tiger is just a soft toy when anyone else is around, but when Calvin is alone Hobbes is a real tiger. Ted was the same. To everyone else he was just a teddy bear. But to me he was real. Ted talked. Well in my imagination (I guess) Ted talked to me and I talked to him. That had started early on and I guess it was an extension of what I had with my dolls as a child. They had talked to me too, and what started as a bit of a game, became out of control. Ted had his likes and dislikes which I worked my life around. Ted loves bananas so there would have to be bananas in the house always. Ted also preferred me to be at home with him, so I would always have to hurry home from being out. I can’t emphasis how important it was that I worked around these and other demands of Ted.

155

Only my family and Dave know this side of me, and even then they don’t know everything. I have kept it well hidden from anyone else, as I knew they would think I had totally lost it. The few times that I mentioned to therapists, just how important Ted was in my life, they didn’t seem to understand. Part of me knew there was something wrong. It was not normal to be so hooked on a soft toy, let alone imagining that he talked to me. It took nine years of therapy and many therapists before I was able to begin to really talk about this side of my life. But still it left me exposed and scared. Perhaps one of the difficulties for me in talking to anyone else about Ted was that I had never heard of anyone having this sort of relationship with a teddy bear. Reading books had always been important to me, and in some ways while I was sick it helped me realise that I wasn’t the only one on the world experiencing these things. But there was nothing I had read that even remotely suggested that anyone else would feel the way I felt, and so I concluded that I had gone totally crazy and the best thing to do would be to keep quiet about it. In many ways what I had with Ted kept me alive. I treated him almost like the child I didn’t have, (although I don’t see him as a substitute child) and worried what would happen to him if I died. I couldn’t bear to be parted with him and worried about leaving him at home if I had to go out. If I went for a walk, I would go through stages of putting him in a backpack and taking him with me, talking to him as I walked. If I was going to see friends I would usually leave him in the car, but still within sight. My biggest fear was that someone would break in and steal him. I didn’t realise that no one else would see him as being as valuable as I did. Most hospital admissions involved Ted. He went too and was written down as being one of the possessions I had brought with me (each psych admission involved a record taken of absolutely
156

everything I had with me at admission). The only time he didn’t come to hospital with me was when I went via ambulance (although Dave always brought him in shortly after I woke up) and the time I was in ICU. He wasn’t hygienic enough to be there apparently but as I was unconscious, I didn’t miss him. Later though I would worry about what it had been like for him to be alone without me. On one occasion hospital staff thought that I had smuggled drugs into hospital by hiding it in him. They wanted to cut him open and I totally lost it. No one was going to cut him open, and I certainly would not have hidden drugs in him. As it happened staff were confusing me with someone else who had previously done this, and Ted was spared from being cut open. There were times though that even Ted was not enough to keep me going. When I ran away from hospital I left him behind, hoping that it wouldn’t be long before Dave would come and rescue him. When things got really bad, he couldn’t stop me from trying to take my own life. I believed that he wouldn’t want me to go on suffering, and so could put behind him what suffering my death would cause him. Other times he was the only thing that prevented me from killing myself. I couldn’t bear to leave him. When I got to Ashburn Clinic I found other patients who would carry around their teddy bears as some form of comfort. I realised that while I was not alone, I was also different from them. You see no one but my family and Dave saw me with Ted. Sure he might be sitting on my bed, but I wasn’t constantly holding him or outwardly using him to protect me from the world. And in seeing those patients I knew that I would never let myself do that. I didn’t want to be seen as just another psych patient who is seen to walk the world clutching either a hot water bottle or a teddy bear for comfort. What I had with Ted was a private thing. No one would see.
157

Towards the end of my treatment at Ashburn Clinic, Tony asked me to bring Ted to one of my therapy sessions. I wouldn’t, as I didn’t want to be seen as one of those other patients. I also had seen cases where people had tried to take teddy bears to therapy sessions and had been told to leave the bear outside the door. There was no way on earth that I would put Ted in that situation. In the end I did take Ted with me one day but couldn’t let Tony see what the relationship was between Ted and me. Ted just sat on the floor while I talked very vaguely about him. I never took him back, in spite of Tony wanting me to because I couldn’t expose myself. I am the first to admit that my relationship with Ted had to take its toll on my relationship with Dave. Dave didn’t know just how important Ted was to me until after we married. Neither of us knew how Ted would come between us. But I’m not apologising, as Ted was what I needed at the time. He just was, and that’s how it had to be. I do recognise how hard this was for Dave. I have searched and searched for a story like mine but I guess it simply is kept private. I wanted to know that I wasn’t going crazy. I needed to know that there was even just one person in the world like me. I have also struggled to tell my own story. It’s so private that it hurts to write. I was tempted to leave it out but then wouldn’t be telling the whole story. That’s why I have paused to tell you this part of my life so that you know where I am coming from. Notes

1.

Bond, Michael, 1958, A Bear Called Paddington, Collins.

158

Chapter 16 – Beginning Again
“Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain.” Author Unknown.

A big thing was made of leaving hospital. In a public psych ward, you can be seen by the psychiatrist at any time of the day and then told it’s time to go home. There’s no waiting until tomorrow – after all they need the bed. At Ashburn Clinic it was different. Staff recognised that for many of us leavings were not a good time, and that in our lives we had often failed to do them right. This time we were being given the opportunity to do it properly. We had plenty of practice as patients that had become like family to us left too. When my leaving date was set (with me) I had four weeks left. During that time I started to get glimpses that life might be okay. Every so often I would be somewhere, perhaps in a group or sitting outside having a coffee, and I’d suddenly realise that I was enjoying myself. It had been so long since I had felt that way. In my last week I did a project to tell the group what I had achieved while I had been at Ashburn Clinic. This was really hard for me to do. Much as things were definitely getting better, I still seemed focussed on the negative - what I still needed to work on. I went about the project by drawing two pictures. One was of what life was like when I arrived at Ashburn Clinic, and the other of what it was like now. The first picture was painted blue, black and grey. There was my house in Wellington, my family and Dave. And then there was a huge question mark. None of these things seemed important any more as I had no idea
159

what my life was for or what was going to become of it. I didn’t care either. In the second picture I had the words loss, pain, apart, tension and different lifestyles. The sun had begun to shine and the sky was clear. I could see purpose to life again, but there was a still lot of pain. I knew my journey was not over yet. At the end of my presentation to the group the nurses pulled out sparkling grape juice (no alcohol allowed) and glasses and the whole group toasted my good work. I left Ashburn Clinic hoping that my days of psych hospitals were over. Hoping that from now on life would get better. Hoping that I’d never have to return to the darkness that by that time had shrouded my life for over five years. I decided to remain in Dunedin because I knew that I still would need support. Support which only seemed available in Dunedin. I would continue to see Tony as an outpatient – he had said I would need to see him for at least another year. I now had friends in Dunedin who knew what I’d been through. Not just from watching my hell, but from going through their own. They knew that life wasn’t kind and that often it dealt really hard blows. They knew what it was like to be at the bottom of the cliff, just wishing for an end. They could understand, but they could also be honest and hard when it was needed. I bought a car, found myself a flat, and got my half of the matrimonial property. Then I set about re-establishing life, this time as I single person. I enrolled at university, with my heart set on doing a fill-in year at varsity and then enrolling for nursing training for the year 2000. But it wasn’t as easy as all that. Leaving hospital doesn’t mean that the hard times are over. It just means that you are well enough to live outside of that environment. The same as for a physical illness. Once you leave hospital the illness is not over. There’s still recuperation and rest required. Perhaps physio or
160

rehab needed. Finishing the details of my marriage was also difficult. I was back to being single and it wasn’t always easy. The first year was hard. When I left hospital, I felt that life was good. But that didn’t last, and I went back downhill again. Starting university was difficult. I knew no one and felt very old. I was 33 and most students were under 21. I felt out of place, and still felt as if I was walking around with a sign on my forehead saying ‘psych patient’. Sometimes I was back in the middle of the darkness without any sign of the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d been told that having experienced suicidality, it would always seem to be an option. Every time things get hard, I would be tempted to end my life. I hated that, but I knew that I couldn’t change the past, and I couldn’t go back. It might always be there. “It seems like everyday I ask myself “Will I go on living?” I don’t think anyone would have any idea how much this still plays on regularly on my mind. After all this time, it’s still there.” “Starvation and death seem so inviting. After all this time, all this money. Tony tells me that those thoughts won’t go away for a long time … perhaps the food thing will never go away. I can’t avoid food like an alcoholic would be told to avoid alcohol.” “Got my first A+ ever!!! I was expecting a low mark so am really pleased. Wow!” “At the moment I am living on a diet of porridge. Lunch and dinner. It’s safe. I’m finding it really hard to let myself have food in the house. And after so long of restricting I don’t know how to eat anymore. I was always adamant that I knew how to eat. I just didn’t want to eat. Well it’s not quite that simple.”

161

After about a year, I stopped seeing Tony when he left Ashburn Clinic suddenly. I was given the option of seeing someone else there but I chose not to. I just got the name of a very good GP and undertook to see her on a regular basis. Then as my mood deteriorated I was eventually referred to the local psych team.

162

Chapter 17 – Psychedelic Moments
“When they saw him from a distance they could hardly recognise him; they began to weep aloud and tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads” Job 2:12, (NIV)

After seven long years I was told that what I suffered from was a chronic illness just like epilepsy or diabetes. It would not go away. I would always have to monitor myself. I would always have episodes of depression. But the good news (apparently) was that it was treatable. Yeah right! Do you call waiting seven years for recovery as treatable? I didn’t and was really angry. Now that the sun had just begun to shine again, I was being told that there was no guarantee that the sun would continue to rise each day on my life. And sure enough, much as I had wanted to believe that I might be one of the fortunate who don’t get further episodes, eventually I came to realise that the sun was no longer shining. “I feel so pissed off! Like this is my lot for life. This is what it’s going to be like. Shit! I hate it! Going back down this track is not what I want. I don’t want to be a psych patient. But I feel fucking awful and wonder what the point of this life is. What’s the point if this is what it’s going to be like?” “I feel like cutting myself again but I won’t do it so deep that I need stitches. Three trips to A & E in 10 days (to have bad cuts stitched) has left me embarrassed. My arms are a mess and I know I can’t completely hide them once summer comes. Why am I doing this too myself?” On one of those trips to have cuts attended to I was given 12 stitches to a cut on my right wrist, which was deep enough to see the bone. The stitches came without an anaesthetic as the doctor told me I had endured the pain of cutting so I could endure a bit
163

more pain. Can’t say I blame him really. “I am so close to dying. It feels like the best and only thing to do. I don’t want to die by myself, but that is totally unrealistic. No one is going to be with me while I die. But this dying by myself seems like the ultimate end to how I feel. Alone. It’s not really about anyone being there with me but rather it’s about being alone in my mind. The pain I carry in my mind is killing me.” In August 2001 I was admitted to hospital again. This time it was Dunedin Public Hospital and it was my first hospital admission since I left Ashburn Clinic in 1998. I felt defeated. I had tried so hard to stay out of hospital, but now it was too much. One of the things that had been haunting me for the previous few months was about my grandmother. At 94 she was mentally all there, but physically she was close to death. Her husband had died over 30 years before, most of her friends had died, and she would say in moments of honesty that she wished she could die. She had told me several times how God must have kept her alive so that she could see me well again. Now I had started to believe that it was my fault that she was still alive. If I was well then she could die, and I persuaded myself that if I were dead then she wouldn’t have to worry about me and could therefore die herself. I became convinced that my death was the best thing I could do for her. At one point I had tried to talk to the emergency psych team about my thoughts about my grandmother, but they brushed it off saying that I didn’t have control over her life. They told me I was being self-indulgent if I thought I had such power as to control whether she lived or died. They didn’t understand. The thoughts were left to fester, and when I decided to take myself off medication the thoughts only got more intense. I chose to say
164

nothing to anyone about these thoughts, as my experience was that they were never understood when I first tried to talk about them, so why should it be any different now? Once admitted to hospital I maintained my silence, but I felt more and more tortured by the thoughts. I had to die so that she could die. The hospital staff knew of my suicidal thinking, but did not know all of the reasons for it. At about the same time there was a court case going on in which a son had killed his elderly mother, the reason apparently being because he couldn’t bear to see her go on suffering. I began to believe that I needed to do the same thing to Grandma. I needed to kill her. If I were not going to be given a chance to take my own life, then I would have to take hers. I was responsible for her life and death. Tuesday 11 September 2001 was my 36th birthday, and I was still in hospital. There had been talk of sending me home on leave, but when I told them that for some time I had intended to kill myself on my birthday, it was decided that I shouldn’t be allowed leave. It was a good thing that leave was denied as I had a large stash of medication at home. My birthday was also the day when the United States of America lost over 5,500 people when terrorist attacks struck in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. My birthday was 9/11. The day I was meant to die. In New Zealand of course, we were a day ahead in time zones, and that helped me quickly come to the conclusion that these terrorist attacks, and therefore the death of so many Americans, were my fault. I was supposed to die on 11 September, but didn’t. I had been kept alive. It seemed to me that because I hadn’t died, God had let these thousands of people be killed. If only I had taken my life like I was supposed to then these people would have been safe. The terrorist attacks had killed thousands of people because I had not killed myself.
165

I remember that my nurse woke me on the morning of the 12th and told me that the world was in chaos. I didn’t know what she was talking about, and being half-asleep with the added affect of the remnants of sleeping medication from the night before I thought that perhaps she was saying that the ward, rather than the world, was in chaos. My other immediate thought was that she was talking about me. What had I done, that the world was now in chaos? That day was to become one of those that you always remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. Non-stop television news bulletins blared at me in the patient lounge, and the more I heard the more I became convinced it was my fault. Over and over again, we watched footage of the World Trade Centre towers collapsing. Aeroplanes flying directly into buildings. People running for their lives. Inside my head, my thoughts were going crazy. Not only had I not killed myself, or my grandmother, now there were thousands dead because of me. The thoughts were going crazy but I kept them to myself. I knew it was best not to tell anyone what I was thinking. That afternoon I was told that I could go home on leave. The plan was for me to have four days at home, during which time I was to ring the ward every night and that if I needed to, I could come back into hospital. I went home with no indication to the staff of my thoughts of guilt over the tragedy. I knew enough to know that they would think I was crazy, and so kept my thoughts to myself. I did talk to John (the therapist I had begun to see several months earlier) about my connection to the terrorist attacks. He asked me how I thought I was to blame, and I explained that God was angry with me for not dying and so had allowed these other people to be killed in my place.
166

It felt to me like the world was shutting down. On top of the American situation, I believed that the closing down of the retail chain Deka at the time was further indication of the end being near. When Air New Zealand announced financial difficulties, I put that down to the same impending end. Nearly a month after my birthday and the terrorist attacks, the USA launched attacks on Afghanistan, part of what was referred to as the ‘war against terrorism’. My heart sank further as I wondered whether these new attacks were my fault too. From a combination of this and various other political events in the news, I went into something that I could only describe as shock. I felt that at any moment I would explode into a million pieces. I was convinced that this was the end of the world. It’s hard to explain just how scared and frightened I was. Not only was I afraid of this end of the world, I was also afraid of my thoughts. I knew it wasn’t normal for me to react in this way to world events, but I couldn’t convince myself that this was not really happening. I never had any plan to fix things. I had no sense of power over these events. It was simply my fault because I had not killed myself by my birthday and now the world was ending and killing myself would right the wrong. I remained in hospital for five weeks while I was put back onto medication, this time a combination of anti-depressants and antipsychotics. I was allowed out to go and see John twice a week for therapy, and occasionally was allowed a few days at home. I hated these trips home because my cat Penny was still away in the cattery and my house just didn’t feel like home with her not there. But I felt alone and doomed. When I came out of hospital, it didn’t last. Several weeks later I was admitted again, this time after I had carved the words ‘I hate
167

me’ into my stomach with a craft knife. I was given the option of more medication or another course of ECT. I reluctantly chose the ECT but didn’t hold out much hope. “I wish there could be a guarantee that ECT would make a difference. I wish for many things, but what I don’t wish for is more of the same. I’m fed up with this infinite sadness. I’m fed up with not being able to live. I’m fed up with trying new treatments but nothing actually making a sustained difference. I am just so tired of all of this.” I had six ECT treatments in late 2001. I knew there would be headaches; I knew there would be memory loss. What I didn’t expect was that I would regularly wet myself when I had the treatments. This hadn’t happened the first time, although maybe I just didn’t remember. It was apparently a result of the muscle relaxant used. I would simply have to walk back to the ward (from the ECT Treatment Room in the geriatric ward) with wet jeans. Just one more indignity to bear. I wasn’t even alert enough to care and no one was going to care for me. “I am such a bad person. How can anyone believe anything different? How can they possibly find anything to love? Dad has just been telling me what a good person I am and that it is Satan telling me that I am bad. I hear Dad but I don’t know how I can possibly believe that God loves me. I am totally unworthy of love.” “I just wish it was over. I’ve had enough. I don’t want anymore. No more pain, no more hurt. No more roller coaster of emotions. No ups but no downs either. Just nothing. I just want peace from the war that rages in my head.” “There are at least two different people living inside me. Maybe three, maybe more. There is me and then there is another me that takes over in the afternoon/evening. This other me is distraught
168

with no explanation, but she can quickly revert back to the standard me as required. How can this be? I don’t understand.” My memory from this point is hazy. I knew this would happen. I knew the ECT would affect my memory. The doctors told me that it would affect my memory of the time during which the treatments were carried out. I knew better. I had been down this road before when I had ECT in 1995. Then it was the same advice. They said that it was only for the period of the treatments and that wasn’t important as I was having a bad time anyway and ‘that would perhaps be better not remembered’. I’m inclined to disagree. If it were simply that period of time that was wiped out then maybe I could accept their argument, but it wasn’t. My experience was that my memory was wiped for at least a year. And it didn’t come back when the treatments stopped. It was simply gone. In 1995 it wasn’t so bad as Dave was there to remind me. Now I was on my own and even now some years later I have little idea of what happened during 2001 and 2002. I know that I continued to see John twice weekly and I completed three more papers at varsity. My grandmother eventually died and this was a great relief to me. I didn’t need to carry that sense of responsibility for her life. I possibly had more hospital admissions but by the end of 2002 I was feeling pretty good and importantly no longer want to end my life (I had even handed over my secret stash). This time perhaps, the ECT had worked and for that I could let the resulting memory loss go. What was important was that I wanted to live.

169

Chapter 18 – With Difficulty
“God gives every bird his food, but He does not throw it into the nest.” Josiah Gilbert Holland

My experience of the health system was continually difficult. Help was there, it was available ... but first you had to know where to go to seek it out, and then you had to have the fight in you, to get what you need. The fight was never ending. Every turn came with hardship and difficulty. It was not enough to just be sick and weak, but instead the system seemed determined to squeeze every last bit of energy out of me as I reached out for help. A mental illness only made it more difficult! When you are mentally ill, you question everything about yourself, especially your right to live and your right to get the help you need. Your mind is spinning so fast in just dealing with the illness, that to fight a system is usually much more than you can bear. Every new person, every new question, each test, each type of treatment, is too much. The world seems so different to the point that it is coming in on you. It’s louder and stranger than ever before. Yet to get help, somehow you have to be able to fight the desire to hide from it all. You have to go out and fight! I was lucky, I guess. I had a husband, for a time, who was able to stand beside me as I fought – and when it became all too much for me, he would carry on fighting for me. And when I no longer had a husband, I had family willing to fight for me. If it weren’t for them, I would have given up seeking help from the system long ago. It was just too hard. Anyone facing it on their own is in for an up-hill climb.
170

The way that the health system, and more so, the mental health system seemed designed to work was as a trial by ordeal. One must prove their right to obtain help by showing an ability to fight through the system, through the paper work, and through the foboffs. If you make one slip up along the way, you might have lost the chance. It simply needn’t be this way. The mental health system is stretched beyond its limits. The system is full of funding battles and arguments over treatment policies. Everyone has their own favoured views, and this only contributes to the frustration of those who try to seek help. Each time you turn another direction, you are faced with another opinion. Within the system there are many people who care, many who want to help. Miraculously some do manage to help their patients, but others seem to allow themselves to be mere pawns within a political battle. Even as pawns, they hold tremendous power over those who are sick. Getting a bed, or fighting for funding for a bed seemed the hardest. Time and time again it would be acknowledged that I needed to be in hospital, but that didn’t mean I’d get there. It wasn’t just me. It was a struggle for everyone. On one occasion when Paul had decided that I needed hospitalisation, there was no bed available. We asked how I was supposed to cope at home. His reply was “With difficulty.” He knew what I needed but could do nothing about a system that couldn’t help. In some ways I was lucky. I wasn’t living on my own. I had a husband who was there most of the time. But that didn’t take away the problem. He hadn’t married me so that he could watch me around the clock. He tried hard but he had to work, sometimes he had to go away for a few days, and mostly he didn’t know how
171

to care for me. I needed more than he could provide. It wasn’t his job – he was a husband, not a nurse. There were many times when the health system relied on Dave too much. They expected that because he was with me that I would be all right. I would be safe. I wasn’t. Dave needed a break just as I needed specialist care. He wasn’t enough for me. I needed much more. Sure he could take my medication off me to avoid an overdose, but I became pretty good at hiding things from him. I had drugs, alcohol, knives and razor blades hidden. It’s hard to know what Dave was thinking at the time. We didn’t talk about it, even though we probably needed to. He had got into a pattern. If I overdosed he would call the ambulance, see me out the door on my way to A & E, and then he would go to bed or back to what he was doing. When I escaped from hospital he would be told and then he’d go back to what he was doing. Although this sounds strange, what else could he do? Somehow he had to keep his own life going. Dave fought the health system for me. I didn’t have enough energy to fight it and I had little desire to get the help I needed. When I couldn’t see someone for another week, I just accepted it. Dave didn’t. He would contact doctors, administrators, Members of Parliament and even the Minister of Health. He would demand answers and results. But even his battles did little to get me help. What did happen was that I became like an object passed from one to another. I had what was referred to as, multiple diagnoses and therefore different people were responsible for different issues. The eating disorders team were responsible for my weight and my physical health, but for most of the time, even when I was dangerously underweight, I just remained on their waiting list. They didn’t have the resources to see me, let alone help me. The mental health team were responsible for my emotional and mental
172

health. In the end I just fell through the cracks and often a GP was left to pick up the pieces. And the more Dave fought, the more the health system dealt with him, and not me. Sometimes it felt like I was no longer the patient. At one point one doctor admitted that he’d rather talk to Dave than to me, because he could get more sense out of Dave. What about me? I was still legally competent, but I wasn’t treated that way. Instead I was treated like a child. The more Dave tried to fight the battles for me, and the more I withdrew, the more strained our relationship became. I resented that I was like a child to him, someone that he had to look after. He probably resented that he had to do this. We stopped talking. We stopped sleeping together. It wasn’t like a husband-wife relationship anymore. How could it be? How could there be romance? Looking back there were a lot of paper wars fought on my behalf, especially in trying to get funding for me to go into Ashburn Clinic (the only facility providing the care I needed). The fight was fought and lost over and over again. It was eventually won, when Mark took on the fight for me. Even he, my caseworker in Wellington, battled for a long time. But although funding was awarded finally, it wasn’t given for the entire time I needed it. Again my family had to come to the party and paid for what I still needed. I was fortunate to have family members who could help. I wonder now whether we just fought the battle in the wrong way. Someone who I later met, and who went though a similar battle as I did, fought it differently. Her family went to a television current affairs show – and got instant results. That said I doubt I could have coped with media coverage. It shouldn’t be like this. If the need for medical care is there, the care should be available. It is enough to deal with the illness,
173

without having to deal with the politics. My name should never have needed to cross the Prime Minister’s desk. It did though. The other problem that I saw was that there was little care available for people like me. Even in the psych wards nurses told me that I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t schizophrenic. I wasn’t manic. I wasn’t psychotic (except for the time in 2001). Apparently to some staff there, I just needed to pull myself together and get on with life. And they told me so. If only it had been that easy. What I really needed was long-term psychotherapy and, when I wasn’t well enough for that, I needed a safe place. I needed to be kept safe. It seems that was too much to ask.

174

Chapter 19 – Those Who Stand Helpless
“Yet there has been nothing simple about the struggle to grasp the reality, the extent, and the cost of selfless commitment that is unconditional love…” Brett Denham in, Deserving of Death by Fiona Denham

There was nothing easy about the relationship which those close to me tried to hold on to. Many gave up along the way, only a few stayed to the end. Those that stayed right through were the ones that I repeatedly tested. Did they really love me? Did they really accept me for who I am? Were they willing to accept all of my ugliness? It is a difficult task for friends and family. Taken for granted. Rejected. Shouted at. Hated. They were constantly trying to guess what was the right response to make. No way of knowing whether it would be accepted or whether another wall would be slammed up in the face of trying. Yet I desperately needed these people. I needed the love but even more I needed their hope for me, for I had run out of my own hope. Maybe if they believed then it could happen – I could be restored. I quickly learnt who wasn’t interested in being my friend. I’ve since learnt to call these people ‘fine weather friends’. They’re there when everything is great. They’re happy to be part of the party. But as soon as a storm hits, they’re gone. They don’t want to know. It’s raining, it’s pouring. The clouds are dark and have opened wide. We’re wet and cold. It’s not the weather we would choose to be out in, but what choice have we? We’ve found ourselves in the middle of a storm.
175

We need to find a friend or two, friends who have the right accessories. Right now, we need coats for us to wear, You see, it’s cold out here. We need a friend to hold an umbrella. An umbrella big and strong, to keep us protected from the storm. And a torch to guide our footsteps when it all becomes too dark. Without warning, the storm often changes to become a fierce heat wave. But still we need those friends to hold the umbrella, this time to shelter us from the fiery heat of what seems like hell. Sometimes like a heatwave, and sometimes a blizzard that we face, and what’s worse is that it seems to be never-ending. We need real friends right now. Bad weather friends; friends who will stay with us in the storm, or the heat. We need friends to hold our hands, and help us feel safe. Anyone else – fine weather friends, those who only want to share the good days; that sort of friend is of no use amidst the storm. After all their umbrellas might get blown inside out. If you don’t want to face our cold, dark and sometimes fiery world, that’s okay, but just please don’t pretend. What we need are those who are willing to be real friends. Willing to face the battles with us, hand in hand,
176

in it until the end.

Some people chose to not stick with me. Many had no idea of what it was that I needed of a friend and I have to admit that often the messages I put out were very mixed. For much as I needed friends I didn’t want them. I tried with all my might to push people away, so some people didn’t need a second invitation to step away. Those who stuck with me had to be determined. It is strange how when I most needed people I couldn’t bear to be with them. I hid from many phone calls. The answerphone and Dave proved very useful. When people knocked on the door I hid and pretended to be out. I couldn’t stand myself or my feelings and I couldn’t handle the thought of others seeing me like that and maybe agreeing with me. What if they couldn’t stand me either? I maintained that I was not lonely but rather just very alone. There is a difference and being with people wasn’t going to help me. Many times being with people left me feeling totally out of the real world. I didn’t fit. I didn’t like what I saw of myself and I didn’t want others to reject what I knew they would see. To add to the isolation was the constant battle I would have at mealtimes. When I did eat, it was on my own or perhaps with Dave. I certainly wasn’t going to put myself into a situation where others were watching me eat. Actually across the years it was rare that Dave and I would be invited for a meal, but it became even rarer when I refused invitations. Even meeting people for coffee was hard as I would have an internal battle going on such as whether I would allow myself to have milk in my coffee. Should I allow myself the chocolate sprinkled on top of the cappuccino? That seemed too much. Sometimes that milk in my coffee would end up being all I would allow myself for the day. Each encounter with food was a nightmare in itself, without
177

having to deal with everyday conversation and the inevitable questions that would come up. It wasn’t just my friends that got pushed away, or chose to move away. My family were also in for a hard time – but perhaps worse simply because they were family and therefore couldn’t help being tied to what was my world. To them, their wife, daughter, sister or granddaughter was suffering but they couldn’t get near. There was a huge wall between us and it was getting bigger. So why did I push them away? Part of it was what I didn’t like about myself, that they might see if I gave them a chance. But more so it was because I didn’t think they could understand. Perhaps too, at times, I felt it was partly their fault that I was suffering so much. Of course it wasn’t their fault. There were definitely things about my life growing up with my family that were now affecting me, but equally there were things that had happened since I had become an adult. I couldn’t blame my family for those things – but I did. For a while everything was their fault. I didn’t want to see them or hear from them. Dave, thinking he was doing the right thing, made this easy. Letters were the main form of communication with my family before the days of email. For a while my therapists recommended that I didn’t even have this contact with them. I needed to be completely separate from them. Much as this was what I wanted for a long time, I found it incredibly hard to do, because in spite of everything I felt about them, and in spite of their seeming lack of understanding, I still wanted to be a part of a family. I wanted to belong. I felt like an orphan but I didn’t want to be one. I wrote some very frank letters and emails over the time, and I suspect that Dave said some very frank things (supposedly on my behalf). While they allowed some contact, many letters just ended in misunderstanding and hurt. It seemed easier at times just to not
178

write, and I would panic every time a letter arrived from one of them. My brother Craig was the only one that I remained in regular contact with right through the journey, even though he was overseas for some of the time. I know that much of what I said in my letters to him would have hurt. To me he represented the family and so he heard a lot of my hurt and frustration. He was often a go-between, particularly between myself and my parents. Craig kept being there for me. Sometimes he wrote some very frank words in his letters to me, but he was honest. He told me how my actions affected him. He told me how he just wished for an end, even if that meant death. He told me how he thought I’d never be alive for his wedding day. I don’t begin to think that he told me everything of how much I hurt him or others in my family, but he is the only one that has been able to say these things to me, and much as they hurt at the time, I think I needed to hear them. A Brother’s Choice Long after they have all gone home, After the dark of the night has set in, The cold of the winter touches our bones; And you continue to walk with me. The valley closed in long ago, Not a tramper, yet my wilderness, Is the one which you choose to embrace. You have chosen to walk where I walk, To feel the pain I feel. You have been so far away, You could have chosen to avoid the pain Which you now feel with me. Yet your choice,
179

Has been to hold my hand. Long after others have misunderstood, After the hope has faded from my eyes, You have held onto hope for me. You believed the valley would end, the wilderness disappear; You have chosen to walk with me. My other brother Steve also chose to walk with me but did it in a different way. He was the practical one who arrived with the trailer when I had to move flats or when I had to retrieve what was mine from my marital home. He also chose to almost ignore the arrows being fired by me and love me anyway. He was always there when I needed him and when I let him be there for me. For a lot of what went on, those still close to me still do not know. I kept a lot hidden from everyone. Dave and I were selective in how we chose to update people. In the beginning some people were left to think that I still had glandular fever. Only those we trusted were told about the depression. Glandular fever was easier to admit to. A physical problem is often seen as more real than an emotional or psychiatric condition. The next step was to admit that there might be psychological issues as well as bio-chemical matters needing to be addressed. Medication alone would not fix me. Could I admit this? Later the anorexia became more obvious but I refused to admit that to anyone, including doctors. I couldn’t face telling anyone and since my mother had once been a dietitian I considered that it would be the last thing she wanted to hear. Anyway loss of weight, or weight gain, could be put down to a symptom of depression. It took several years to be able to mention the eating disorder to my family, let alone friends. Actually when I was dangerously under-weight, most people were still telling me that I
180

looked good. I didn’t. anything but good.

What were they thinking?

I looked

Keeping this to myself didn’t do me any favours. What I could not admit, most people did not see and therefore did not know of the battle going on within. They had no idea of just how impossibly hard it was to receive gifts of food for birthdays, etc. They had no idea of why I would not accept invitations to meals. They had no idea of the addiction that was literally killing me. The self-harm has perhaps been the biggest thing I hid. I had marks all over my body but I didn’t let anyone see. In summer I wore long sleeves to hide the scars. I still do when I’m feeling self-conscious. The worst of the scars remained. How could anyone understand? This self-mutilation made no sense even to me. When people ask what the scars are from it is very difficult to explain, and I usually don’t. I change the subject. When I started self-harming I couldn’t understand it. What’s more, I couldn’t understand why my doctors said it was a good thing – because I was expressing the pain I had held onto for so long. And that is what I was doing. I felt so bad that I actually had to feel physical pain and see blood to know what I was feeling. To cut, or scratch or burn was my way of letting myself feel the pain I felt inside. It was something tangible. I could see why it hurt. Hurting on the inside was not tangible. It made no sense. I also hid my drinking. Mark and Sharon both wanted me to consider detox. Alcohol became a way to get through the day, or the night. A close friend of mine made a comment to me about alcoholics who lie in parks with their bottles in paper bags. He said they were the scum of the earth. I didn’t lie in parks, but I did lie at home with my bottle in a paper bag. It was easier to drink straight out of the bottle. I hid my bottles under my clothes in drawers. I guess I was scum.
181

I had a problem. I had become dependent on being able to drink until I passed out. That way I didn’t have to think. I could still exist, even if I didn’t have access to alcohol but I was fast becoming alcoholic, and I hid it well. Even Dave didn’t know. He might guess that I had a glass of wine before he came home from work, but he had no idea how much I had actually had. He didn’t know that I would continue drinking after he went to bed. He didn’t know that I would pass out regularly. My past will always be there. The major depressive disorder, and anorexia nervosa will always be part of me. The other labels suggested by various experts include anxiety disorder, bi-polar disorder, personality disorder, alcohol dependency, post traumatic stress disorder, dysthymic disorder, bulimia nervosa and dissociative disorder. They were all used at different times. There was often disagreement about their existence. They served to confuse. They left me feeling like a label rather than a person with needs. Sometimes they made me feel better about what was happening. If there was a name for it I knew that I wasn’t just going crazy – imagining it all. But mostly they meant nothing. Looking back I know my friends and family went through so much pain. I know too that I don’t know the full extent of their pain. I have hurt too, as I’ve seen others suffer as I have, but I will never know exactly what it was like for them. I can only know my experience, and that is not enough to be able to say that I know how they feel. I don’t believe that any of us can ever know exactly how another feels. Each experience is different. Reading books about others’ experiences was very useful for me, but it could still not prepare me for my own journey. Each journey is different. I used poetry to express some of my journey, but I didn’t often share it with anyone. It would only give a little insight and I was so scared that people would think that by reading what I wrote that
182

they would understand. For what I wrote, and even what I write now, only tells a part of the story. No words will really express the full pain. The sleepless nights, the endless days, the frustration of the medication doing nothing, the pain of waking up alive when I thought I’d never have to wake up again, the confusion of lost memory, the fear of being alive. So much for which there are no words. Novelist Hanif Kureishi (2008)1 suggested that when you love somebody who is sick you must wonder whether you love them or their illness. This must have been a question Dave pondered. Was I a wife or was I a patient? He wasn’t my healer. Healing did not come while I was with him. But sadly he also didn’t fit as my lover. I couldn’t bear for him to see my body let alone touch me. I struggled with letting him love me in a way not much more than the love of a friend. I think he had the role of carer, and this took all of his energy. All the energy of both of us. Dave did all that I let him but that wasn’t enough to sustain our marriage. His focus had to be my illness, I guess, and this illness prevented the depth of his love getting through to me. I tested everyone. I tested their love over and over again. I was convinced that their love was conditional. I was sure that I had to be a certain way in order to be accepted. I had been a compliant, good Christian, and now I didn’t want to be that good little girl. I changed my hair, I considered tattoos but could never decide on what to have, I left church. I misplaced my Bible, I swore, I drank, I smoked … I tried anything that didn’t fit into that good little girl image. The damage I might do to myself didn’t matter, as I could see no future anyway. Testing worked. It divided people between those who would love me no matter what and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t. It cost me dearly. I lost. I lost some of what I thought was most important to me, but I know that what is left is here to stay. I know that those who stuck with me, love me... and that’s what matters.
183

Notes 1. Kureishi, Hanif 2008, Something to Tell You, Faber and Faber.

184

Chapter 20 – After Church
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” Psalm 137: 4 (NIV)

I started this journey as a Christian. I believed in God and lived my life in accordance to how I thought God wanted me to live. I was a regular at a Baptist Church (as I had been all of my life) and was involved in the music ministry both through playing the flute, singing and leading worship times in services. I started this journey believing that God was a good god and that as my heavenly father, he didn’t let pain happen without good cause. I no longer knew what any of that meant. I was born into a Christian family and that was all I knew. My parents and my grandparents had all been long standing members of Baptist churches. Dave was also a Christian having grown up in an Anglican clergy family. It is worth noting that we both believed strongly that we were supposed to be together. We believed that God’s will for our lives was that we marry. My understanding of family and community came from what I experienced as the ‘family of God’. When I was three my father became a minister of a Baptist church and that led to several moves around the country as Dad would take up positions in churches. With each shift came a new community of people that I can only describe as being what I imagine is similar to a Maori whanau, or extended family. The Church was my family. Church wasn’t just about Sundays but rather a way of living 24/7. Everything revolved around my Christian commitment to God. Not just Sundays but my whole life centred on what I (and sometimes others) thought was God’s will for me. I had gone to church on Sundays and for most of my life I was very involved in church life. Right from about seven years old I
185

was in the church choir. As a teenager I was part of the youth group then later I became a youth group leader. I wrote reports for the nationwide church newspaper - perhaps that’s where my writing started. As an adult I was very involved in the music. A couple of months before I got sick I preached my first sermon. The church I was attending was keen to encourage people to do this, and so I took my turn. It went down really well and my minister said I was a natural, had a gift for speaking and should use it. But I left church shortly after. Life wasn’t without its hardships and there were times of suffering. But I believed that there was purpose to that suffering. I didn’t always know what the purpose was but I firmly believed that God would use the suffering to make me a better person. When I saw suffering in other people’s lives I still held onto a faith that there was a greater purpose of some sort. I believed Bible verses such as 1 Peter 4: 12 which says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you maybe overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” When I began to get sick I started looking for answers. What was the purpose to my suffering? How was I to rejoice in this suffering? Why was God letting this happen to me? When was God going to make me happy? How long must this go on? Does God really exist? Is this faith and life I have chosen for myself all a hoax? Why has God forsaken me? I thought that if I could work out God’s purpose to my suffering and pain, then I would be healed. I had stopped going to church shortly after I got sick. I tried to keep going. I had to drop all involvement in music because I simply did not have the energy. But it seemed that I just didn’t fit at church. I kept reading my Bible and praying, but it seemed like
186

my line to God had been disconnected and soon even this was too much for me. Everything seemed very dark and it seemed to me that God had turned his back on me. There didn’t seem to be much patience for a mental illness in church. What I heard people telling me was to ‘snap out of it’ and to ‘trust in the Lord’. ‘Forget your problems, think about others’ and ‘it’s all in your head’. I was told just to trust God and everything would get better. But it wasn’t happening. There was no joy in my heart so how could I possibly sing the songs, speak the words that went with a commitment to church. The last time I went to Church was a disaster. It was an Anglican Church in Auckland. We had been referred to the vicar there for his prayer-healing ministry. He was really nice and seemed understanding of where I was at. This Sunday morning, Dave and I sat near the back of the church. Dave went forward to communion but I couldn’t. I didn’t think I deserved it. I was such a bad person. Sitting next to us was an old lady, who at the end of the service leant over to me and said “Smile, it will make us feel so much happier”. I made a very quick exit and never went back. Smile, so it will make them happy? She just had to be joking! But she wasn’t. That was the problem with church for me. I was expected to pretend to be happy, to pretend that God never let anything bad happen to his children. The problem was that I knew this was untrue, and I had spent my life being happy for other people, but I couldn’t do it anymore. In the early days of my suffering I was given a book to read about a Christian woman who suffered depression for two years. At the time that seemed an inordinately long time. I couldn’t possibly comprehend suffering like this for so long. I had seen suffering before. Not so much my own but others around me. Children dying, terminal illnesses, unemployment and disability, to name a few. I could see all of these and more, but it’s much easier to have
187

hope when it is someone else who is suffering. Interestingly I gave myself no mercy, viewing the hardships that had come my way as my own fault. Why had I come to that conclusion? I had little idea but somehow I believed that God wouldn’t let hardship come the way of his children. Should I say, hardship beyond our ability to bear? What had I done wrong? Was stalker Richard’s warning of bad things happening to me now being played out? I couldn’t be sure. Another verse which gave the reader hope was Isaiah 26: 3:You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts you.” I could remember singing songs that spoke these words. But how could I relate this to my own situation? My mind was anything but steadfast and at perfect peace. My mind was turning cartwheels at a frightening pace. During the early days of my illness Dave and I sought out prayer for healing from a variety of sources. A range of explanations for my suffering were put to us including that an evil spirit had entered my life through my grandfather who had been a member of the Masonic Lodge. There are some Christians who believe the Masons to be work of the devil, and so apparently I was paying for my grandfather’s so-called ‘sin’. He was a Christian man and I was just relieved that my grandfather had already died and didn’t ever hear of this. I believe it would have broken his heart. Any prayer for healing, of which I received much, thanks to many good people, did not bring about instant results and much of the time didn’t seem to bring about any noticeable change. I guess some will say that prayer may have been the reason why I survived two such large overdoses, but at the time it certainly wasn’t something I was thankful for or even wanted to know anything about. I have struggled to find answers to my questions or to find church relevant to where I am at. Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough but
188

neither have I had the energy to address this. I’ve continued to find church too full of people who believe only in happy, joyous times with God and his people. It hasn’t fitted with my own experience. My own experience has been of utter despair and desperation. Prayer for healing and relief seemed largely fruitless. Life was so different to this idea that as a Christian I should be full of joy. I felt no joy, no life, no peace. None of the things I was apparently meant to experience in God existed for me. How could I sing of God’s love when I felt none of it? So what happens after church, after religion? Where do I fit? Am I still a Christian? Who defines what a Christian is anyway? Why does God allow suffering? I don’t know the answers to all these questions and many more. I’ve looked for the answers everywhere. I’ve read books. I’ve asked people. I poured through my Bible. I prayed. No one seemed to be able to give me the answers. Mostly people just want to tell me to ‘trust God and it will all work out’. This isn’t enough for me. This has been going on for a long time and it has nearly cost me my life several times. My life has been permanently scarred as a result of this journey, both physically and emotionally. It’s been really frustrating. Actually it’s been devastating. The faith my life was built on made no sense to me and I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation. My experience is that when the going gets tough, many people don’t want to know. They want to stay in their safe little world and aren’t willing to weather the storm with you. I am still able to see the potential in church, because I still believe in God. It angers me that churches are shooting themselves in the foot and are losing people. People like me. People who are in the midst of a storm and need shelter. Shelter with acceptance.

189

I admit that when surrounded by depression and despair, I am not the easiest person to be with. Who would be? I can’t bear to be with people but can’t bear to be alone. There is no winning. I can’t bear who I have become yet I expect those around me to love me just as much as ever, even more. For some reason I expect Christians to do this better. Perhaps that is as unreasonable as I am. But then the pain seems unreasonable so why shouldn’t I be? I guess what I do still believe is that whoever God is, he (if God is really a he) is a much greater being than humans could ever think possible. And his love is totally unconditional... like nothing I could experience on earth. I don’t know where the peace is and I’m not sure whether I have anymore right to that peace I want than all the other people who suffer in our world. No matter how much I have suffered, many have and continue to suffer more than me. Psalm 34:17,18 reminds me that God still loves me: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” It reminds me that God loves me but I don’t feel God close to me. It feels more like I cry out and no one is there. I don’t know when I will get delivered of my troubles. Psalm 57:1 also promises me a shelter from both troubles and unwise people: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” It doesn’t matter what other people think and it doesn’t matter how weak my grasp of this is at times. I think I have stopped going to church because I get more distracted from this truth when I listen to some Christians in churches. Shame.

190

Chapter 21 – Infinite Sadness
“The miserable have no other medicine. But only hope.” William Shakespeare

I wanted a happy ending to this story, one in which ‘they all lived happily ever after’. But more so I wanted a happy ending for me. I long for my life back. I want to be happy again. I want my family to have their daughter and sister back again. I want an end to what seems like infinite sadness. I don’t want infinite, but rather an end to my overwhelming sadness. I have sat waiting for that happy ending. Sometimes working hard to just get through the day, one hour at a time. Believing, sometimes more days than others that there was hope. There would be an end. I just had to wait and be patient. Do what I was told to and eventually it would come. I moved from Dunedin to Christchurch in 2003, to be closer to the family I now believed I could depend on. I was feeling pretty good and had even finished therapy thinking that I didn’t need this support anymore. Unfortunately within a few months my mood took another dive. While I have managed to stay out of hospital for more than six years now (and this is a victory for me), I have had to rely on more help from the mental health system as an outpatient. In late 2003 I under-went another course of ECT, this time as an outpatient at Hillmorton Hospital. That was stopped after about 12 treatments, when a doctor decided that I had been given too much ECT. I’m still not quite sure what that meant but I was too out of it to make much sense of what I was told at the time. Again my memory went. Again I wet myself each time (I had forgotten this aspect of treatment and wasn’t sufficiently aware of it to prepare or care for myself…). What I do know is that this time the ECT hadn’t worked.

191

The next step was to find a new psychotherapist and try therapy again. The therapy with James continues and it is hard work. One of the first and hardest hurdles was to get used to him having the same first name as the ex-boyfriend James who stalked me. The mere mention of the name makes my skin crawl. Often I think it would be easier to not carry on. Therapy is hard work, and a broken arm would be much easier to fix. Much of this work is centred on the different parts of me that take varying roles in my life. Some are helpful but some are destructive and I need to learn how to manage them. My mood goes up and down but is more often than not, down. I was discharged from the care of both the Canterbury Adult Mental Health Service and the South Island Eating Disorders Service in 2006. Both said there was nothing more they could do for me, and my care was transferred to my GP. I haven’t felt good about this but I had little choice. The Adult Mental Health Service said I would have to undertake more Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) if I were to come back under their care. I haven’t found CBT very helpful in the past and my experience is that it clashes with the analytical therapy I am undergoing and finding useful. Interestingly the same Service more recently said that CBT wouldn’t be helpful for me (because I was dealing with more than one issue) and that I should continue with the analytical therapy James offered. By 2006 I had reached a new low. Before then I could pretty much say I held onto some glimmer hope, (although I admit that at the time of my suicide attempts it felt to me like there was no hope either) that one day things would be better. But now life became hope-less. There was no hope. I had suffered for so long. I couldn’t see a way ahead that was better than what I had. I couldn’t see an end to my suffering. I desperately wanted to kill myself, and was pretty confident that this time I would achieve the death I sought.
192

“I’m feeling more and more that something is just not right. Feels like a monster is taking over my mind. A nasty, critical, negative judgemental monster.” “It’s like there is a noise in my head. Like I’m standing in the middle of a motorway and cars and trucks are speeding past me on either side. They’re all tooting their horns at me and yelling out their windows. I’m standing there with my hands over my ears trying to stop all the noise and just wishing for then to stop. It’s like that with other people and I’m trying to have a conversation. All this noise is there and I don’t know what to say. Which words in my head are the right words?” Through therapy I had come to realise that there were more people in my head than just the one I thought was me. Instead there are different parts. There are parts of me that want me dead. Parts of me that don’t care what other people think. Ted is a part of me. There are parts that want me to live, who wanted me to complete my degree and want to see me whole again. It is to these parts that I have promised not to kill myself. I cry out of frustration that I had made this promise at times, but it has been just enough for me to stay alive another day. “I feel like someone has taken over my body. Someone other than me inhabits my life. This person doesn’t do anything that might be good for me. Just wants to destroy me.” “I found some old birthday cards today and am quite shocked. One from Mum and Dad reads ‘to the woman who has everything…’ Really? Everything? Oh how appearances can be deceptive. Don’t believe it for a minute!” “This voice inside my head tells me to keep my mouth shut. Like it knows what I am about to say and is warning me. It’s like this caretaker inside of me that wants to protect me from the contemptuous me.”
193

“Being attacked by the critic in me is making me so tired, apparently. I long to silence the critic but have no idea how.” I think this is how I could appear to people – as if I was coping, or even doing well but at the same time be desperate on the inside. I could put on a good performance, even fooling those who thought they knew me well. On the surface I looked good. I kept up my varsity work, managed to write and could even hold down a reasonable conversation when required. But inside I was dying, or at least desperate for an end. Cathy Wield described how I saw myself: “Consequences are grave for the sufferer. I was entering the world of the ‘mentally ill’; no flowers, chocolates and sympathy now. In fact I was experiencing increasing suicidal thoughts. I felt worthless, useless, a hopeless failure. This was real to me and I was also totally convinced that this was my fault in some way. I thought I was a weak person to have succumbed to such an illness and I must bear the blame of allowing this to happen.” 1. Sometimes I went way over the top and I spent money like it was going out of fashion. I spent it partly to feel better, but also I kind of forgot that I had little money and spent anyway. The more I spent the more I let myself spend more. There were many instances of this. Some I was able to cover up and not let on to anybody, but mostly the truth came out somehow. One such time happened in Wellington while I was visiting Craig. I went quad biking, followed by dodgems one afternoon with some friends. None of us could afford it although they were in a slightly better off than me. They at least had jobs. The next day left to my own devices I went shopping and spent way more than I could afford in shops that I would usually avoid. When I came home to Craig’s place I showed him and his wife Maria what I’d
194

bought. They couldn’t believe it. I’d shopped in shops they would usually avoid because of the price tags. I did my spending using a credit card and there was little stopping me. I didn’t care about the consequences. I just thought I was invincible and some how the bills would be paid. Perhaps I didn’t care about the consequences. Perhaps I would be dead. In 2007 I returned to my varsity study, this time on a part time basis at the University of Canterbury. I had managed to complete two thirds of my degree while in Dunedin and by the end of 2008 had completed my degree with a double major in sociology and human services. It was hard to change universities, let alone having the concentration to be able to apply myself to the work. That said, it was a positive change in terms of being able to change my course to something that interested me more than what I had been doing at Otago. I have shied away from most social interaction and struggled with this daily. It’s too hard to accept myself without (what I see as) inflicting myself onto others. At times I took Ted to varsity with me just so I didn’t have to face it alone. I couldn’t bear to go otherwise. Other times he waited either at home or in the car for me. This isn’t the happy ending I was hoping for. What I mean is that it’s not an ending. Unfortunately the mental illness continues. I still suffer from depression and have an eating disorder, which I have yet to conquer. I have also got a dissociative disorder. I struggle with all of these on a daily basis. Some days more than others. I manage through a combination of therapy, medication and exercise (when I can make myself). I could have gone on waiting until I could tell my story with a happy ending, but then maybe my story would never be told. I believe it is important to share this now, because for some of us the mental illness goes on. For me it is about finding a way to live with it rather than being able to vanquish the mental illness. Maybe there won’t be an
195

ending – although I admit that this is very hard to write because I so much want an ending. Nothing had really worked in the long term. Other people responded to medication, ECT, therapy, but seemingly not me. This was more ammunition for the parts of me that wanted me dead. I was becoming more and more of a recluse. It was my only way to cope with the world. A world that would not be able to stand all of my repulsiveness. I wasn’t a very nice person, those parts told me and it would be best to be removed from the world. This I would continue to battle with this day in, day out. I continue to take what seem like vast quantities of medication. I have little confidence in what I take but am petrified that I could be worse off without it. I reluctantly acknowledge at this stage that I am likely to be on medication for the rest of my life. This disappoints me greatly. I realise that not everybody agrees with this but I have come to the conclusion that the person I was before this illness, has gone. Or at least has vanished off this earth, unlikely to be seen again. It’s the only way that I can explain to myself what happened to the confident, warm, friendly and successful person I was before September 1993. I’m not that person anymore. This person who writes today is inclined to pain, torture and heartache, and is a different person. How could she not be? I have found it difficult to stay in touch with friends of days gone by. It’s just too hard to face them with all of that ugliness and what I imagine would be their revulsion of me. She who they used to know won’t be coming back. Would anyone mourn that person I once was? The body is still the same but inside is a different person. But that goes along with the flowers and sympathy Cathy Wield wrote of. It doesn’t really fit.

196

My life does not fit with the usual experiences. I am now 43 and the children I assumed I would have have not eventuated. I guess I thought that I would concentrate on my career in my 20’s and then on having children in my 30’s. My 30’s were otherwise occupied. An acquaintance told Dave and me (in my early 30’s) that having children would fix the problems I faced. When I stop and allow myself to think about it I am sad to have missed the opportunity to be a mother, but am relieved that we didn’t take the advice offered. That would have been playing with fire for me and I suspect it would have killed me. I couldn’t have been the mother that those children deserved just as I couldn’t be the wife that Dave deserved. I would be lying to say it did not leave me saddened. It does. Life is unfair. It’s not easy. Suffering will continue to come my way. At times I may be tempted to kill myself, cut myself and to starve myself. Sometimes I struggle to hold onto hope and sometimes I feel no hope at all. Some days I will be able to rustle up a smile. Others, I fear, will be much harder. I have to take one day at a time, even one hour at a time. Just to do what ever it takes to keep on going. ‘Happily ever after’ is a fairytale. ‘One day at a time’ is much more realistic for me. Notes

1.

Wield, Cathy, 2006, Life After Darkness, Radcliffe, p.17.

197

Some of the many books I found helpful
Bass, Ellen & Davis, Laura, 1988, The Courage to Heal – A Guide For Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, Harper and Row. Blauner, Susan Rose, 2002, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me – One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention, Harper Collins. Broyles, Sharon, 1993, Strength for Today – Daily Devotions for the Chronically Ill, Harper Collins. Denham, Fiona, 1996, Deserving of Death… My Journey to Life, Inside Out Books. Dowrick, Stephanie, 1997, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, Penguin Books. Dukakis, Kitty & Tye, Richard, 2006, Shock – The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, Penguin Books. Karp, David A, 1996, Speaking of Sadness, Oxford University Press. Grissen, Lillian V, 1993, A Path Through the Sea – One Woman’s Journey from Depression to Wholeness, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kushner, Harold S, 1981, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Pan Books. Solomon, Andrew, 2001, The Noonday Demon – an Anatomy of Depression, Random House.
198

Steinberg, Marlene & Schnall, Maxine, 2001, The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation – The Hidden Epidemic, Harper Collins. Wield, Cathy, 2006, Life After Darkness – a Doctor’s Journey Through Severe Depression, Radcliffe Publishing. Wilkinson, Helena, 1993, Beyond Chaotic Eating, Harper Collins.

199

Acknowledgements
I will always be grateful to the doctors, psychotherapists, nurses and other health professionals who contributed to my care, and without whose help I would not be alive to tell my story. Thanks too, to the many people who travelled with me on the journey of group therapy and in doing so contributed to my life today, as I hope I was able to contribute to theirs. For my parents the journey has been long and very painful. I appreciate greatly their willingness to put aside their own hurt in order to try to understand mine. It speaks greatly of their love. It is not possible to give them the privacy others obtained by the changing of names, as they are Mum and Dad and there is no changing that. I appreciate their unfailing support throughout this journey and the telling of my story. Thanks, is not enough. Thank you to all those who gave me permission to include quotations in this book, as indicated below. Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright holders of quotations included in this book. I apologise for any errors or omissions that may remain. Quoted by kind permission of Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table (An Autobiography Volume II), first published 1984 in Vintage 2004 Page 193. Excerpt quoted with permission of Fiona Kidman, Ricochet Baby, Vintage New Zealand, 1996. Extract taken from alt.spirit@metro.m3 by Mike Riddell, published by Lion Hudson. Copyright © Mike Riddell. Used with permission of Lion Hudson PLC and Mike Riddell.
200

© Wield, Cathy, Life after Darkness. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing; 2006. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder. All bible verses taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, 1978, Copyright© 1978, by New York International Bible Society and The Living Bible, Copyright© 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois.

201