***TRIGGER WARNING*** Suicidal thoughts/plans
Please take care of yourself and don’t read on if you are feeling at all vulnerable
In the six years I was a frontline probation worker I spoke with all kinds of people about all manner of crimes. Some were one-offs, people “of previous good character” as the Courts like to put it, often helped along by alcohol. Some people’s offending was made up of many smaller crimes that they hoped would never be discovered, repeated petty frauds, habitual minor shoplifting or other theft. The financial gain might have been small, but perpetrators often had much to lose; I will never forget the dinner lady who stole repeatedly from the school safe to fund her online gambling, nor the trainee barrister who lost all hope of practicing law once convicted of fiddling timesheets at the office where she temped.
Towards the end of my frontline career I worked with a different kind of offender entirely. I was the specialist Probation Officer for a group of mostly men (40 individuals, of whom just one was a woman) identified as causing a disproportionate amount of local “acquisitive crime” – thefts from cars, street robberies and, above all, burglaries – committed to find their use of heroin and crack cocaine. Unlike the dinner lady and the trainee barrister, these were people who had very little to lose. Most had a history of what would once have been called “delinquency”, a pattern of teenage behaviour including low-level crime, dabbling in drugs and the kind of disruption and absenteeism which saw them excluded from the school system without qualifications. Their family relationships were tenuous; many had been in care, and it was not unknown for them to have been introduced to Class A drugs by their own parents. Printed out, their criminal records ran to many pages. With little hope of a legitimate job and no secure accommodation these clients frequently went on benders, committing burglaries or robberies daily, simply to fund the next day’s drug use. When the police finally caught up with them it was my job to coordinate with a drugs worker, a housing worker and specialist police officers to try and get them into treatment, into housing and under stricter supervision.
I usually met them after their latest arrest in a glass-walled interview room in Wormwood Scrubs. My job was to tease out of them exactly what had happened this time, where and how things had unravelled until they’d reached a point of what felt like no return. Sometimes these men would describe “going off the rails” to such an extent that they no longer felt in control of the situation and were in some way relieved to have eventually been arrested, to have been stopped in their tracks before they could do more harm to more victims. In more than one case a client actually phoned a police officer from my team and asked to be arrested. If they were going to give up and be cuffed, they’d rather it was by someone they trusted and knew.
This former caseload of mine has been much in my mind of late. As my suicidal plans grow and develop, becoming more defined as I have undertaken detailed research, I feel more and more that I am the one now off the rails. I feel, as my clients sometimes seemed to, that I am only partially responsible for my actions because my bipolar bender has taken on a life of its own and I no longer know if I can stop it. A few weeks ago when first in crisis, I wanted to be stopped. I gave up, voluntarily, information that would allow someone to step in and stop me. I didn’t much care if that was a relative or a professional. I didn’t care if I had to be admitted. I wanted to be the one to be told, “This is where it ends. Enough. Come in, before it gets worse.”
The difference now is I don’t know that I want to stopped. I feel that the “seductive suicidal voice” has the upper hand, just as my clients sometimes felt their addictions did. Certainly my suicidality, like an addiction, is making me self-centred, horribly concerned with my own needs and my own needs only. Certainly it is causing me to do things that do or might hurt people I love. The suicidal inner monologue is constantly running, while at the same time I continue to do ‘normal” things that “normal” people do – discuss Christmas plans, choose a new kitchen appliance, worry about a relative’s health, plan work several months away. It’s not that I am feigning interest. Part of me really is invested in the future, but part of me… isn’t. Maintaining this duality is very tiring. Most probably it’ll soon get to a point where I hold my hands up, confess everything I’ve been doing, buying, thinking and reading, acknowledge that I am very ill, but I’m not there yet.
My biggest protective factor at the moment is my appointment at the National Mood Disorders Service, which is now just four days away. It would be beyond ridiculous to wait seven months and end up in hospital and unable to attend. So I’m struggling through each day, telling my inner monologue that no, it doesn’t have to be now, it doesn’t have to be today, nor tomorrow. I know that I need to cease doing the things that make it more likely I’ll put my plans into action. And I know the best way to do that would to be tell somebody the truth, Tom, or the nurses at Home Treatment Team, or maybe the junior doctor.
But I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to give up and give in, to ask somebody to stop me. I’m being referred back to the Senior Psychologist attached to the HTT. Maybe he can help me make some sense of it all, of my twisted motivations and conflicting desires. In the interim I daren’t even tweet my thoughts any more, for fear some over-zealous “helper” will try to involve the emergency services. I feel like more and more like an outlaw, far out on a limb, someone whose thoughts or deeds set them apart from normal, decent people. And that’s such a lonely place to be.