Please note this story contains themes around suicide, self-harm and mental health that some people may find distressing.
Surviving Suicide by Rachel
This is Rachel’s story about surviving suicide and how she is striving to making a difference for herself and others who are dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
She is part of Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership’s Wave Three Suicide Prevention programme’s working group and brings her voice to the suicide prevention and self-harm work happening across mid and south Essex.
Rachel is a 34-year-old mental health nurse originally from East London. She is one of four children who grew up in a ‘health care’ family, as several members of her family are in health and care professions.
Living with mental health issues
My mental health issues are not a new thing. I’ve a longstanding diagnosis of personality disorder and have attempted suicide twice and self-harmed. Most recently I ended up at Basildon A&E following an attempt to end my life and an incident of self-harm.
For me my issues started in her early teens with eating issues, which was diagnoses as EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) with further diagnosis of depression, cyclothymia and later a personality disorder (EUPD/BPD). As a result, I’ve been on various medications since around 17.
My recent visit to Basildon A&E was because my mental health deteriorated after I moved into my own home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was lonely, isolated, I’d never lived alone, and I was making excuses not to go into work, which everyone readily accepted. I could do my job at home so why not, and I was spending the weekends working as a triage nurse. I was using my work to escape my mind and because I was fulfilling targets, no one realised how bad it was.
I was subsequently admitted to hospital and stayed a few months so I could get the support I need to be ‘well enough’ to go home.
I was lucky that the paramedics, A&E and Medical Admissions Unit (MAU) staff at Basildon made me realise how biased I was about my situation. They were kind, understanding, and supportive, where I’d expected judgement, condemnation and ignorance. I remained on MAU until I was seen by Psych Liaison, and again I was treated with care, listened to, and I was able to give my views and concerns.
I was finally discharged in December 2021 from inpatient care and stayed with family until February 2022.
Moving forward – an ongoing and challenging recovery
I don’t think someone truly recovers. Even if symptoms are eradicated, I still need to receive care, medication, or therapy, as recovery is an ongoing process. I’ve fallen even since I was discharged from hospital, despite community care and medication. But I’ve stood up, sometimes with the support of services, sometimes on my own.
I’ve learnt not to let things build up and have regular check ins, whether that’s friends, family or colleagues, and reaching out as soon as things don’t seem right. I have also realised that sleep is crucial to my mental health.
Helping others – challenging the stigma around mental health
As a nurse I’m not a stranger to challenging stigma and restrictive practice. In 2019, I won RCN Nurse of the Year for a project with inpatient forensic service users. The project recognised that first and foremost we’re working with people with identities, sexualities, and the same desires for relationships as everyone else. It encouraged staff and service users to feel more confident to speak about this.
In addition, I’m part of suicide prevention strategy meetings for north east London, east London and Essex. We’re helping to raise awareness in the community and working with the police, mental health, public health, third sector and specialist service colleagues. I have also delivered mental health and suicide awareness training to the Essex Police Online Investigation Team (POLIT).
I’m also an active member of the Wave Three Suicide Prevention working group mid and south Essex, using my experiences and knowledge as a professional and a patient, to shape the suicide prevention and self-harm strategies.
Final thoughts – Challenging labels
My strength is my experience as a ‘patient’, particularly someone with a diagnosis of personality disorder, and having experience of self-harm and attempting to end my life, I can be vocal about this and encourage practitioners see beyond the label. I want them to see a person’s hopes and dreams, because if they can see mine why not someone else’s?
I also want to challenge the notion that people like me will always be in crisis. I didn’t have my first hospital admission until I was 34, but my diagnosis was long before this.
More than anything, I believe in the potential of people. I want someone who has that small acorn of an idea, to use their experiences of mental health to work in mental health. I want them to see me and realise that with the right support, they can grow and be as mighty as an oak. That they deserve that. They can be whomever they want to be, and that their diagnosis shouldn’t hold them back.
The Mouth Of Manliness by Nick
Not fitting in with ideas of masculinity
I grew up with some very strong male figures in my life and like many of that generation the idea of a stiff upper lip was important, unfortunately for me, being a more artist and creative temperament I found it difficult to live up these traditional and unrealistic expectations.
As a result, because I felt I didn’t fit with male standards of masculinity I was left feeling really insecure, and with a distorted image of himself as weak and feeling that I couldn’t be myself as that version of me just wasn’t good enough.
I think it was by the age of nine that my mental health was starting to suffer. In addition, school wasn’t easy as I again felt like an outsider, especially as the things I cared about and were good at, my art and music, just wasn’t considered a real career option for me. This led to me being in therapy at 14 but even then, I felt it wasn’t giving me what I needed, and in addition it wasn’t an easy fit for me or my family.
I continued to see different GPs into adulthood and was prescribed medication and counselling, but I was unable to move forward and was in fact getting progressively worse. Being unable to cope with my thoughts and self-loathing led me to alcohol and substance misuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and self-loathing. Even getting married and have children didn’t help me change my feelings and stop me spiralling
Turning point – getting the right help
Things reached a crisis point in 2017.
I was signed off work, really unwell, on antidepressants, becoming obsessed with the idea that I would take his own life. I was also desperate not to end up damaging my kids by leaving them without a dad; I subsequently felt forced into action.
By this time I was already having therapy with Thurrock and Brentwood Mind, and they worked with my GP Dr Mohili, to get me additional clinical support after which I was referred to a Psychotherapist who finally diagnosed me with dysthymia (depressive disorder or chronic depression), and double depression, which meant his depression is constant and would sometimes dip even further, as well as having borderline personality disorder. My medication was adjusted, and I started hypnotherapy with Peter Khan at Chafford Hundred Hypnotherapy, as well as continuing to see my therapist. This was the right combination for me; it started to make a difference as I began to feel more positive and able to manage my thoughts.
I also took the massive step of telling my loved ones about my suicidal thoughts and this it turned out to be a critical moment for me. I’d always felt that I didn’t want to worry them and put this knowledge about my thoughts onto my family – but in fact it was, in fact, another crucial step for me in changing my relationship with myself and other people, as they did want to know and wanted to help.
Changing the script and helping others
I then Nick made the massive decision to leave my job as I realised it was making miserable, I was given the opportunity to work with Thurrock and Brentwood Mind as a Positive Pathways Manager; it felt like an obvious and natural fit for me as I was able to advise people about navigating their mental health conversations. I felt happy being able to help other and use my own experience with the drugs and therapies to guide other people through their treatments.
My self-esteem grew as I felt like he was finally addressing his issues and proving to himself that he was worthwhile and had something to offer. I was also not feeling things so intensely and that was a glimmer of light for me. I was able to be present, in the moment, in control of my damaging thoughts and dismiss them and shift myself way from them.
I also started a podcast talking to people and sharing their advice and stories about mental health. I’ve loved the opportunity to talk to people I wouldn’t have otherwise met – it has been empowering and helped to lessen my own shame. Oddly enough if it wasn’t for my mental health issues, I wouldn’t have met these people, so my problems have become an opportunity I would never have otherwise had.
You know I always wanted to be a musician, a rockstar, and part of that was because I saw them have everything they wanted in the lives and living their dreams; I thought this would be the answer to my problems. Thing is I did have the opportunity to get a successful rockstar on my podcast to talk about his experiences with mental health, and I discovered that I had all the same problems I did – it was a powerful moment.
I feels and I know I’ve come a long way, and while the ‘black dog’ may still stalk me, I’ve learnt to accept it and even see it as giving me the chance to experience new things and meet some amazing people. This includes Dr Mohili and Dr Hurter both brilliant support GPS, Peter Khan, my therapist; all those people who have listened and supported me.
What have I learnt from this whole experience? It’s that if you need to reach out and get help, be honest with yourself and others and stop hiding your feelings and what you’re experiencing from others. Be present and in the moment try not to over think things, learn to step away from your thoughts. I found helping others and sharing my journey has in fact given power back to myself – the best gift I could’ve asked for.