Tuesday, 10 September 2013

We need to talk about Helen

As I type this blogpost there is an entire conference taking place in London with the sole purpose of saving my life ... yes, it's the How Can We Save Helen Harrop? conference and approximately 100 delegates there will be discussing how they can to apply the findings of a five year research project in order to prevent me from killing myself.

Of course I'm exaggerating for comedic effect, the conference hasn't been held purely to discuss how to save my life, there's a *slightly* wider remit than that ;-) But given that I currently find myself once again in the icy clutches of a suicidal crisis it does mean I have a very larger than average personal interest in what's going on there.

Over the past week I've watched as hundreds of tweets in my twitter stream shouted loudly about the fast approaching World Suicide Prevention Day - All full of very worthy sentiments and proclamations about 'tackling stigma' and 'getting people talking' and 'saving lives'. I don't have any problem with any of that sentiment but I do find myself doubtful about whether any of that admirable sentiment will lead to a reduction in the number of suicides.

I don't doubt that the stigma around suicide meant that I put off seeing my GP for months but the brutal truth is that for all the stigma-busting I've been doing by seeing my GP, seeing a therapist, and with the people I know in real life, through Bettakultcha presentations (not once, but twice), via a published book chapter, on twitter and here on my blog, I still find myself standing to all practical intents and purposes alone in my fight to save my own life. Yes I have wonderful friends, family and colleagues who all know what I'm going through but I don't think it's being unfair of me to suggest that for the most part they have no idea what to say or do in order to help me through my dark night.

Yesterday I went for a check-up with my GP and to update him on my rapidly declining mental health. We talked about the 18 month waiting list I'm facing before I can find out if CBT sessions will help me. I fought back tears as I explained with a violently shaking voice that asking for help and then being told I have to wait for more than a year was making me feel like my life wasn't that important. My GP was as patient and sympathetic as ever but in the face of my suffering he effectively shrugged his shoulders and admitted that there just wasn't any funding to help me. In retrospect the question I should have asked is 'What if money was no object? What would you be advising me to do then?' At least then my husband and I can make a pragmatic decision about what we do with our combined income this year ... pay off the mortgage or gamble it on expensive private therapy.

Actually I already have an idea of what that advice would be because my therapist gave me that advice earlier in the year - An intensive course of individual and group therapy involving Dialectical Behaviour techniques which would be centred around helping me recover the self which was forced into hiding during a childhood that appears to have left me suffering from complex post-traumatic stress/personality disorder symptoms. Price tag: £14,000 per year. [which coincidentally is approximately the same as my entire annual salary after tax]

Or maybe I could save up and take a chance on the Hoffman Process which looks like it would be helpful and claims to have helped 95,000 people worldwide to turn their lives around, including none other than Thandie Newton and Goldie. Price tag: approx £3,000

Or maybe I could start seeing my therapist again or start again with a new therapist. Price tag: approx £2,500 per year

And not forgetting the approx £100 a year for my current anti-melancholy prescription that I'll need to keep paying on top of whatever path I choose.

And maybe I'd gradually find that I'm well enough to work full time again and every single pound and every single hour I'd spent on therapy would have been totally worth it. Or maybe I'll just be another £10,000 poorer but at least I would still be alive, albeit still in utter anguish. Who knows? Spin the wheel and place your bets. Whatever way I play it the house will certainly win.

I'm sure the funding situation is worse, or better, or just different in other parts of the world and in other areas of the UK but I get the impression that services here in York are currently stretched to breaking. I made contact with the local Mind office last Friday to see what support and advice they might be able to offer and I'm yet to hear back from them [update, they phoned me yesterday afternoon]. I stumbled across the York Women's Counselling Service yesterday but it looks like they can't even add me (or anyone else) to a waiting list at the moment (and it looks like they haven't been able to since March). It takes an awful lot for me to ask for help but at the moment it feels like whenever I do it leads to a door with a solid brick wall behind it. It's making me wonder whether I'm looking in the wrong places or simply not using exactly the right words I need to use when I finally ask for help. Or maybe that's just my depression talking.

So today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I feel like running through the streets of York shouting at the top of my lungs: "My name is Helen. I am Suicidal and I am Standing. Right. In. Front. Of. You!" 

But no, I won't do that, because I was raised to be as invisible and as silent as I possibly could be in order to try and stay out of harms way. So I will sit here and I will wait and I will try to my hardest to keep up hope while I continue to work as hard as I can at trying to save the only life I can. And all the while I will try to stave off the nagging fear that I am doomed to become a news headline on the front of our local paper: 'NHS Fails Tragic York Suicide Woman'

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nurturing my hopeful monsters

The latest donation to my Saving the Only Life I Can comes courtesy of Matt Wicking, who is the lead singer from the Australian band The General Assembly. I fell heavily heart-first into their music when I saw Matt performing at my first Uncivilisation Festival in 2011. I hadn't yet mustered the courage to contact Matt and ask for his permission to include General Assembly tracks in my creative project but happily he fortuitously and unexpectedly materialised in front of me at this years Uncivilisation (which I was at last month). I excitedly bounded up to Matt and blathered away at him about wanting to use his music for my Saving the Only Life I Can project. I waxed lyrical about how much one of the tracks from The General Assembly's Dark Mountain Music EP had meant to me at the depths of my depression. He generously said an unreserved yes pretty much straight away and then he asked me which track I was talking about ... my mind went blanker than a very blank thing and I couldn't even recall a single lyric ... it was totally mortifying. We hastily agreed that it was probably the track 'Wildwood' I was talking about and left it that. For the next few days of the festival I wracked my brains trying to remember *any* of the lyrics that had purportedly meant so much to me during my darkness last year.

Of course the moment I was back in York and safely out of blathering range of Matt I remembered ... it was the whole gosh-darned EP that had been a life raft for me. Wildwood was indeed thickly rich with lyrics that resonated with me:
"Got me searching for the answers on the forest floor" 
"And now I don't know where I'm going and I don't know where I've been so it's hard to find a place where I fit in" 
"I’m searching for a feeling that might not even exist. It’s like looking for a fog in the middle of a mist. I’ve got a compass in my pocket and a watch on my wrist but I’m lost." 
"And nothing's keeping me from losing all the things I've learnt so I'm lost." 
"Now I don’t want to search no more, for an answer I don’t know no more than I did when I started, don’t want it keeping me awake no more"
You can listen to the track 'Wildwood' here [it's featured on Dark Mountain's 'From the Mourning of the World' LP]:

But every other track on that General Assembly EP had lines in them that seemed to be speaking directly to me too:
"Too nervous to talk, too scared to be silent" 
"We're howling in the mountains, burning bones, firing up flares, calling you home." 
"The story starts at the end of everything."  
"The thought of thinking it just makes you ill. Your mouth is moving but your mind is still." 
"You aim at nothing and give it all you've got" 
"It's what your body won't forget and your mind can't understand. The only way out is through. The only way in is under. If you try to measure it you're bound to lose. If you run from it you won't discover [...]" 
"So hold on, just hold on, hold on, hold on. Yeah hold on, just hold on, hold on."
You can listen to the whole of The General Assembly's 'Dark Mountain Music' EP:

In fact it was the last track on that EP, Hopeful Monsters, that helped to keep me afloat. I remember singing the 'hold on' lines at full voice with hot tears flowing down my cheeks on more than one occasion. It still brings a lump to my throat when I listen to it now.

Listening to the EP (for the hundredth-plus time) again it strikes me that there's something more than the lyrics alone resonating with my bones - There's a beautifully mournful quality to the music and at times Matt's voice sounds like a wounded animal which has taken human form - His voice spoke to the wounded animal in me that wanted to just curl up and howl silently into the forest floor.

Huge thanks to Matt for giving me permission to include these tracks even though I couldn't recall a single lyric or song title when I barrelled up to him at the Uncivilisation festival last month :)

Incidentally you should tarry not, go sally forth and dive deep into Matt's solo project, Huckleberry Mockingbird, which is the name that he sings, blogs and poets under. If you find yourself moved by murmurations, silence, funeral parlours, childhood or imperfection then you will find yourself very much at home on his blog.