***TRIGGER WARNING: suicidal thoughts, suicide planning suicide attempt, overdose, physical affects of treatment of overdose***
In September 2001, in the middle of a bipolar mixed episode, an idea came to me. I’d barely slept in a week despite prescribed zopiclone, and my mind had been running super fast. There was a lot for it to go over: the manic, multiple affairs I’d been having online; the lack of attention I had given my children and my husband Andy; my near abandonment of my training as a midwife; and the very recent horror of watching people jump from the burning Twin Towers.
But then came an idea. It was uttered in a calm, quiet, clear manner that was in stark contrast to my physical agitation. I knew it must be coming from a part of my own brain, but it didn’t feel like part of me. It felt like listening to a voice. I’m not saying it was literally a voice. I wasn’t having auditory hallucinations, nor do I mean I was experiencing a deluded sense of “implanted thoughts”. I mean that a section of my psyche I hadn’t even known existed had stepped forward, finger to lips to hush my whirling mind, and grabbed my attention.
>is what we are going to do.
>We are going to pick up that packet of zopi and put it into your dressing gown pocket.
>Then we are going to go downstairs and pour a big glass of juice and take it through to the bathroom.
>As we run the bath, we are going to get everything there is out of the bathroom cabinet – the painkillers, the antidepressants, the odds and ends of benzos, the leftovers of short courses of crisis antipsychotics, and add the zopiclone.
> Then we are going to swallow them all.
There it was. The answer to everything. The way to make the rest of my mind shut the fuck up, hopefully forever. The way to avoid having to deal with the fallout from my recent manic behaviour. The way to stop being me, once and for all.
>What you need to realise
continued the voice
> is that we are going to have to be very sneaky here.
> Andy is downstairs watching TV. He is between you and the kitchen, you and the bathroom.
> We are going to have to be very, very careful not to arouse suspicion.
The voice seemed to speak such sense that falling in with its plan was a massive relief. Suddenly everything seemed lighter, clearer, easier. I propelled myself along the landing and down the stairs. It felt like gllding, or floating; I had no sense of my body. I got the juice. I went into the bathroom and I did what I had been told.
At the time, I didn’t the question the voice at all. I knew I was crossing a line, going into territory I’d never traversed before, but the voice was so seductive that it was hard to resist and I found that I was after all prepared to take that step. In the days and weeks to come, when the scratches in my throat had healed (inflicted by using my fingers to try and bring up more and more charcoal and pills to assuage the nausa) when the bruises had healed from the cannulae and artierial blood gas punctures, when I was allowed back home, I could only think of how inept my attempt had been. Why did I listen to the voice? What was the point of taking an overdose with Andy in the house? It could never have worked, never have done the job.
I didn’t hear the voice for many years after that. Even during my depressions over the past few years the voice has remained absent. Yet in my crisis earlier this year and especially in this current crisis, it’s been back. Over past weeks I’ve been battling against its soft seduction, trying to push against the way it seems to talk such sense, offer such clarity. Fearing its powers of persuasion, I surrendered my all medication along with my bank and credit cards to my partner Tom. Because I knew I couldn’t trust the voice. Which I knew meant I couldn’t trust myself.
Last week Tom decided it was safe to give me my bank card back, just for a few minutes, just so I could go buy fish and chips. I assured him it would be fine – hadn’t I been upfront all along, sharing my suicidal thinking with Tom and the Home Treatment Team, confessing my plans? I went to the cash machine in our street and withdrew £20. At the fish and chip shop I found a queue snaking out into the street so I abandoned the idea and walked instead towards the mini Tesco, passing the cash machine again. I should have simply walked past, but I stopped. No one else was using the ATM, it was there, waiting, as if just for me. My debit card was clutched tightly in my hand, just the way the blister pack of zopiclone had once been.
> You know we can take out another £280, right? Our daily limit?
> You know that if we want to buy the extra drugs for the main plan, if we want to disappear into an anonymous hotel room to carry it out, that’s going to be the minimum you’re going to need?
> We don’t want anybody tracking credit card purchases.
> There might not be another chance. Tom never needs to know. We just need to be a little bit sneaky now. Just go upstairs with a pizza or something and hand your card back. You can hide the cash in the wardrobe.
I stood in front of the cash machine, alone in the dark street, for ten minutes. I found myself lunging forward to insert my card, then pulling my hand back, again and again. So far I had been mostly truthful with Tom, but this would be an outright breach of the trust we’d placed in each other – that he would protect me from harm, but that I would be honest in order to enable him to do that. I felt pushed, propelled, by the voice and its oh-so-sensible thinking but in the end I went upstairs with nothing more than a margherita and some garlic bread.
The next few nights the voice got busy while I was in bed. Tom was already asleep when it started in.
> OK, so we don’t have your bank cards, but we still have your Freedom Pass, right? So we can travel any time, yes.
> How’s about we look up the timetable for the fast trains passing our station and make an estimate as to when they come through?
I called up the National Rail app, and obeyed.
> Good. Then we can get up, put your winter coat and boots on – no sense in being cold – open the front door very quietly, and go down to the station.
> Not to do anything tonight, no, no that. Just to check our guesstimate. Just so we know that if we want to, we can.
After that, I gave Tom my Freedom Pass and keys at night.
Today I have just been left alone in my home for about an hour for the first time in two weeks. It’s supposed to be some level of recognition of the fact that I’m doing better. And indeed I am not so desperately, horrendously low, not thinking all the time that I need to get out of here, need to die. But the voice isn’t finished with me yet. The voice is in the business of keeping escape routes open, and while there’s even a tiny likelihood I may want such a thing, it will keep on at me.
When Tom went out, the voice came in.
> Those meds are somewhere in the house. A good 5-6 weeks’ worth of lithium and additional diazepam. Not to mention paracetamol and co-codamol.
I dithered, knowing Tom would be back pretty soon. The voice began to wheedle.
> Just find them; we don’t have to take them now, of course.
> We can wait until everyone thinks you’re better and do it then.
> Back to the original plan, right? Just act trustworthy. Be a good girl and play the long game.
> We need to get your bank card back, get that money out. We can buy some additional OTC meds in the meantime. Continue researching hotels while we’re waiting.
> Then we can take everything you need to the hotel in your wheelie suitcase as soon as Tom’s gone back to work.
I am ashamed to say I heeded the voice. I’d been trusted to be on my own for the first time in a fortnight, and I went looking for the drugs. With every cupboard door I opened, I got that sick feeling of crossing the line. I didn’t find them; in the end despite the whispers of the voice I didn’t search as assiduously as I could have done, so clearly part of me doesn’t want what the voice part of me wants. But Tom goes back to work this coming week, and I’m going to be alone then. Alone, but not alone. Alone with the voice.