I have mentioned before my first real episode of depression whilst I was in the Navy and I have always intended to write more about it. It was a subject that my ex and I spoke about when we met. That has reminded me to crack on and write about it.
I was in a real spiral of depression that was becoming deeper on an almost day by day basis. I was also suffering with out of control anxiety and huge panic attacks. It was hard to present yourself to doctors with those sorts of symptoms in that military environment. What actually happened is out of concern my girlfriend phoned and spoke to one of the base doctors who more or less summoned me to see her. This base doctor was the only one in the whole process who seemed to get what was going on and act appropriately. Within 10 minutes of talking with her she had decided I was very ill indeed. I was due to go to sea within a few weeks and she told me she was stopping that. She told me that if I went to sea she was pretty certain I would never come back (I wonder if it ever crossed the mind of my ex girlfriend how much grief she could have save herself if she hadn’t made that phone call and I’d gone to sea.)
From then on it was down hill. Without exception I feel that everybody I saw from that point was intent on servicing the Navy’s point of view of things and had nothing to do with providing me with the care I needed. All the people I saw afterwards were medically qualified in their various fields but also serving in the Navy and I think their priorities were mixed up. I had a meeting with a psychiatric nurse. From what I found out afterwards he completely misunderstood a comment I made (through naivety) decided I was misusing drugs and that’s what my trips to London on leave were about. I was not using drugs and at that time was very unsympathetic to people who did. A bit ironic really. He decided that I should be admitted to a psychiatric unit at a Naval Hospital in Portsmouth. At this time I had seen neither a psychologist or a psychiatrist. When I arrived at the hospital about a week later I was increasingly ill. I was checked in by a general nurse. (Checked in isn’t the right term is it?) That was more or less that. I spent about 10 minutes alone with a psychiatrist and never saw anyone medically qualified on a one to one basis again during my stay on the unit. By this time I probably did look as though I was drugged. I was not sleeping apart from the odd hour or two at night. I was crying much of the time and I was suicidal and to be honest quite frightened and disorientated. I was kept on the unit for two weeks and then cursorily discharged back to my base. During the whole time I was given no medication and no therapy. I left in a far worse state than when I arrived. To use a technical term I was totally fucked up! It became apparent that the purpose of those two weeks was to establish that I was misusing drugs and when it became apparent that I wasn’t it was decided I was just malingering. That I might have actually been ill doesn’t seem to have been considered. When I was discharged my girlfriend phoned to say how concerned she was that I was still ill and that I was a danger to myself. Bear in mind that she wasn’t just a lay person but had professional awareness to a degree. Her concerns were dismissed out of hand.
So began a downward spiral that ended up with me taking a near fatal overdose several months later. I say near fatal. In fact the amount I took was enough to be fatal. It was merely luck that a friend became concerned because something I said rang an alarm bell and being unable to get an answer on the phone he came and kicked my door in. None of which I remember as I was comatose by this time. I remember nothing until I woke up on a hospital ward having spent a day in ITU. The simple fact is I should have died that night and but for a friends awareness would have done. There were times over the coming years when I wished I had but that’s part of the story I have already been telling.
Leave aside the reasons for my depression in the first place. I have already said what I think elsewhere on this blog. In hindsight the whole episode of the depression getting worse leading to near suicide is another layer of blame I laid on my ex. Of course that is unfair. She tried to help and the blame lies with people who were, in fact, negligent. I believe treatment of mental illness has improved in the military. I certainly hope so.