It’s an important yet bittersweet anniversary for me today. Thirty years ago tonight I sat down in my living room after everyone else was in bed asleep, and swallowed a bottle of Valium (diazepam) with the best part of a bottle of paracetamol and washed it all down with neat vodka. I was a mentally fragile 24-year-old mum of three small kids in a desperately unhappy marriage, and all I wanted was for the emotional pain of living to stop, one way or another.
I was already receiving treatment for longterm depression, and as well as being under psychiatric care as an outpatient I had been taking Valium daily for a good couple of years. I think many unhappy housewives were prescribed it at that time yet ironically nowadays my history of depression would be a clear contra-indication. It didn’t really make me feel any less depressed, instead it turned me into a spaced-out zombie running on autopilot. From the outside I perhaps seemed quieter and more pliable but inside I still felt like a complete failure of a human being.
Trust me when I tell you it’s not easy getting that volume of dry pills and neat alcohol down your throat – your natural gag reflex kicks in early on, but you persevere, determined. You retch and bring some up but swallow it all back down again, and take even more. It burns like hell, but you do it anyway, choking on tears and tablets until you just can’t take any more of any of it and start to lose focus, both physically and mentally.
Yet just at that precarious not-quite-conscious, not-quite-unconscious point I remember suddenly calling the Samaritans – my best friend had been visiting a couple of weeks previously and, worried about my mental health, she had looked up the number and left it by the phone for me incase I ever needed it. So I saw the number sitting there and as I didn’t want to die alone I called them up and I remember speaking to a soft-voiced guy named Martin…
The next conscious memory I have is waking up in a hospital bed feeling dead, except I wasn’t. And my insides felt raw and violated from my throat downwards – having your stomach pumped out is neither a delicate nor a glamourous procedure, and not surprisingly it hurts like hell. Once I came to various professional people came and spoke to me, and although somewhere along the way I had lost a day I still had my life and I was eventually allowed to go home with my mum and dad – but not to my husband.
I learned afterwards that my husband had woken up in the middle of the night and had found me incoherent but still on the phone to the Samaritans, so in a panic he had called my parents and it was they who drove me straight to hospital, who explained to the A&E staff that I was a psychiatric outpatient being treated for depression. And it was my parents who eventually took me and my children home with them for the time being. After that catastrophic turning point, I never again returned to my marriage…
The gnawing guilt I still feel at almost abandoning my children in the most extreme way has never left me, but I have finally forgiven myself for being young and helpless and struggling with a longterm condition I had no idea how to handle and that was never openly discussed in public. Mental Health problems were still taboo, so my overdose was just swept under the carpet like an embarrassing glitch and family life just carried on for all of us, but never quite in the same way as before.
Anyway, the point of me telling you all of this is that although part of me died that night, something new was born, and that something was hope. The whole horrendous experience of my overdose and its decades-long nuclear-fallout aftermath has taught me that even when everything else in life feels like a barren wasteland, the smallest glimmer of hope always remains and with that glint of hope comes so many potential possibilities for a brighter and better future – eventually.
So every year I mark the anniversary of my overdose with enormous regret that I ever let things get that bad in my life, but with intense relief that I’m still here, thirty years on, and thankfully still have a close relationship with all of my adult children. Happily remarried I’ve also completed a degree and now have five beautiful, precious grandchildren to add to my wonderful family. I still struggle with life from time to time, still experience bad bouts of depression, but I just sit tight because I always know I’ll get through it somehow, because I’ll always have hope for a brighter tomorrow… ❤