As my mental health declined, I started fantasising that I was related to Goebbels. Soon it all became too much and I swallowed 100 pills—but now things are slowly getting better
Last year was the worst year of my life. On Christmas Eve 2005, I unexpectedly, at the age of 50, went into my first episode of psychosis. This lasted until March and, because my delusions had been giving me hope, was followed by deep depression.
The worsening of my mental health was connected with the deaths, in 2002 and 2004, of my parents. I had had a poor relationship with my father, and did not see him for the last 20 years of his life. In contrast, I had been deeply attached to my mother, but this relationship also ended badly, with my mother willing her house, her only substantial asset, to a much younger lover. I became taken up with (entirely futile) plans to murder him, which were diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Later, a visit to the place where my mother had lived, and where her lover occupied her house, intensified my sorrow and my mind gave way.
I suffered from delusions which seemed very exciting and significant at the time, but which I have since learnt are the commonplaces of psychosis. I believed that I was at the centre of world politics, that I was three quarters Jewish and also the grandson of Dr Goebbels, that some of my friends were secret agents and trying to murder me, that my parents had been international criminals and had hidden a fortune away for me in a Swiss bank, and that my mother’s lover was also her son and therefore my half-brother. None of this, as far as I know now, was true. I was eventually admitted to hospital in a frenzied state and screamed the place down in the intervals of being put on to Risperidone.
The medication brought me back to sanity, but confronted me again with the impasse of my life. I went into increasing isolation, and by midsummer was spending all day in bed. I had begun seeing a caring psychologist, and he gave me twice-weekly appointments in an effort to contain my distress. But my dose of antidepressants was not increased, and when my psychologist went on holiday in July I decided, after a brief hospitalisation, that I had had enough of life. The morning I decided to end it all was one of joy for me. Never had my book-lined flat seemed so dear as on the day I thought I would leave it.
I took 100 paracetamol over a period of about five hours, buying more and more tablets at different local shops. I was visited by a member of the home treatment team during the process, but told her nothing about what I was doing. Having taken the last pill, I lay down to sleep. The next thing I remember is being on the phone and talking to my cousin and her husband. They had rung me unexpectedly, not being frequent callers. My cousin said later that something had been telling her to ring. They contacted the police and the ambulance, and I was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital and subsequently transferred to the Maudsley. Before my three admissions to hospitals in 2006, I had never been hospitalised for mental health reasons.
The fact that my cousin had saved my life proved of great significance to me. I now believed I had been saved for a purpose, although I am still not sure what it is. While in hospital, I was visited by close friends as well as relations, and began to know fully that there were people who loved me and cared for me. I was never going to be able to swallow such a large number of pills again without retching, and lacked the courage for more violent means of suicide. While still longing for death, I realised that I must somehow live.
A little while before the suicide attempt, I had, for the first time, taken flowers to my mother’s grave. Although this gesture did not bring me much peace at the time, beginning to be reconciled with my dear mother, and then having my life saved by her niece (my cousin), were my beacons of hope. During the coming months I would often burst into tears.
My dose of antidepressants was increased when I left the Maudsley. The psychologist put me on to enhanced CPA (Care Programme Approach) and I got a Freedom Pass, allowing me to travel free on buses and the tube. At my own request, I was referred to various volunteering opportunities, but was not really fit for this contact with people, or for work. Towards the end of the year I attacked a female manager, and have now been suspended from much of my volunteering. I still help out from time to time, rather forlornly, at Lambeth Hospital.
I do not believe that my sorrow over what I see as my mother’s betrayal will ever vanish. I will always be a sad person, and my unhappiness is likely to intensify as I move towards old age. But I know one thing. As spring approaches, bringing hope, it feels good to be alive and reasonably well, writing again, remembering my parents with love and respect, and rowing further and further from last July’s dark shore.
CAR Hills was arrested at his home the morning after he finished this article. He was charged with conspiracy to murder his mother’s lover and remanded in custody. His first article about life in Belmarsh prison appeared in the May 2007 issue of Prospect. We hope to publish more of his writings from prison in the coming months.
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