A Place of Refuge

The statistics on bipolar disorder say it all! 

Some 15% of all bipolar sufferers will commit suicide as a lifetime event. 

Considering that there is an estimated 200,000 sufferers in Australia; that is a frightening 30,000 people over their lifetimes that will cut short their contributions to their families and community.

Two weeks ago today – I almost became one of that 15%.

I had been feeling depressed and out of sorts a few weeks earlier but seemed to have picked up again and was functioning reasonably well again. 

Then on the Monday night I started to feel the stress of my recent move, family matters and the inevitable financial costs involved in the move that came upon me all of a sudden.  I went into the study and pulled out my life insurance documents just to make sure that every thing was still current and valid.

I formed a plan that I would go to my family doctor to get a script renewed.  This would make two things happen, one; I would be alone in the car and; two, no one else would get hurt if I had the courage to go through with my simple plan of driving in front of the large logging trucks that use the road to and from my home from the doctor’s.

Off I went to the doctor’s surgery and as I drove along I talked to my voice – the one that tells me what a failure I am etc., when I am really depressed.  And I admitted that he was right.  So many things seemed to have failed in my life that despite all of my prepared strategies of thought rationalization – I couldn’t see any other way out.

I got to the surgery and waited my turn to see my new family doctor.  After organising my prescription refill he chatted generally to see how I was going and perhaps sensing that all was not as well under the surface, started asking some more specific questions on how exactly was I feeling at the moment?

One thing led to another and then; the dam broke and I cried and sobbed like a baby telling him that I couldn’t cope any more and that I just wanted to die!  It would be the best for my family – well you know the whole megillah!!

He then asked two very specific questions leaving me no room to manoeuvre.  One was did I have a specific plan on how I was going to end my life and; two when was I going to do it.  Upon hearing the answers he then asked the third life saving question.  Would I feel safer if I was in hospital for a few days until I was more myself?

I sobbingly answered. “Yes”, and he got onto the phone with the nearest general hospital and discussed my case with the psychiatric unit directly.  Then my wife and daughter were called to drive me to the hospital as obviously it was not a good idea to have me in control of a motor vehicle just then.

It took my wife about 40 minutes to drive to the nearest general hospital in the major centre on the coast, Launceston and we booked into the emergency room.  To their credit – We were ushered into a separate waiting room within about ten minutes of being there, 

I was terrified.  I just didn’t know what to expect, being in a new State and medical system and it also being a few years since one of my lows had been this bad that hospitalization was an option.  The doctor came in first and we went through the usual assessment process and he agreed that a stay with them would be a good idea but that a person from the psychiatric ward would be along shortly to confirm beds and the administrative details with my wife and me.

After that was done – an orderly from the unit came to take my wife and I to its location and showed us the general layout of the hospital, parking areas, facilities and basic things that my wife needed to know.

We got to the ward entry and I really thought about turning around and just bolting – I was so scared about what I would find and what was going to happen to me!  Then the nurse assigned to me came and introduced herself and took us both to my room where I would be staying and then took us for a nice gentle walk around the whole unit showing us the facilities and introducing the other staff members.

She did a marvelous job and the quiet friendly way she behaved did a lot to ease my immediate fear.  And to the credit of the unit – not one of the staff did not introduce themselves when they came on shift if they did not know you and especially let you know if they were the nurse assigned to you for that shift and that if you felt that you needed to talk or needed time apart all you all to do was to let them know.

Being a fairly typical male – the one thing I noticed straight away was the quality of the food!   This was the best hospital food I have ever been served!  Apparently the hospital kitchens had just been awarded a special prize for the quality and variety of its food services. 

Now I know why my pants had shrunk after I came home two weeks later!

The next morning was my first session with the hospital psych – a real character who shared the same love of pistols I used to have.  Apparently he was an ex Filipino who had spent a lot of time in Florida before coming to Australia – but I digress.  It was decided to increase my Valproate to near toxic levels and also bump up my Qetiapine as well to help me sleep better followed by the usual blood serum level and blood and liver function tests.

During the next two weeks I learnt a lot about myself and others and saw a number of young people struggling with problems too that nearly broke my heart some days. 

I was also guinea pig of the month because the doctor mentioned in my clinical notes that I wrote for Bipolar World and because of this was asked to attend a group of medical interns doing their psych introduction to mood disorders as it was felt that I could explain to them the feelings and emotions rather than just the text book answers.

A number of the nurses looked up the website of Bipolar World itself and went through many of the sections and were suitably impressed with what Colleen and all of the gang have put together.

So what is next and was it worth it?

To answer was it worth it first: emphatically, undeniably yes.

This visit to the hospital gave me the lifeline I needed and the space to feel that I could take time to heal myself without being a burden on my family and friends.  It also gave time for the psychiatrists to evaluate where I had been both in the good times and currently and plan more accurately for the future.  It gave my wife and family access to material and resources that they would not have know about otherwise.

So the next steps are that I will go back to hospital in early May for further blood serum levels to see if any adjustment is needed.  Then once my medium term stability is reached again – a change of medications is being considered to take into the account newer findings on the best mix of mood stabilizers for rapid-cyclers that I am currently taking.

Why is this chronicled for sharing?

I nearly fell for one of the oldest tricks in the bipolar book.  If you are feeling like you even might take your life or hurt yourself.  Don’t bottle it in or neglect to say something.

Don’t leave it too late to flag you are in trouble – we want to help along with many others.

  1. Tell your family.
  2. Tell your doctor
  3. Or go straight to your emergency room or call your emergency number.

There is a place of refuge that you do not need to be afraid of where people want to help you help your self.  You will give them the chance.

Won’t you?

Graham Brown

24 April 2006

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Owners:  Allie Bloom, David Schafer, M.Ed. (Blackdog)

Partners:  John Haeckel, Judith (Duff)
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