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"I'd said to my friend Ruth that I was thinking of killing myself on my birthday, so she suggested that I came to Maytree" I came out with, delivered in my usual matter-of-fact style.
Fellow guest M burst out laughing, and there we were both in stitches - it was absolutely hilarious (clearly one of those 'you had to be there at the time' experiences). Having heard M cry which touched me on the deepest level, to hear her laugh was such a contrast. As she made me repeat what I'd just said to another volunteer who wandered into the kitchen (at Maytree there is a lot of coming and going) I managed to get it out between laughing so much I had tears streaming down my cheeks.
Something hit me at that moment after repeating what I'd said. The ludicrousness of the situation. The ludicrousness of what I was saying, of where I was in my life. Sitting there the day before my 29th birthday laughing hysterically with a fellow person contemplating ending her life about what would be in reality the least funny thing that could happen in one's life. Suicide.
Maytree is described as "A sanctuary for the suicidal" and that is exactly what it is.
---Why I am writing this---
I am writing this 'review' (I use the inverted commas as I'm not sure that review is really the right word to use to describe such a place - it is after all not a hotel review) for several reasons. Firstly my friends all want to know about my experiences at Maytree, so it saves me having to send multiple emails. Secondly I think that writing it will help me to make sense of my experience, plus it gets me back into review writing which is something I've not been doing as of late.
But most importantly I hope that those who read this on dooyoo (whether doing so due to being one of my friends or regular readers or just coming across it randomly) will remember the name Maytree after reading this, and if they should come across someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, that they can pass it on in the hope that it might just help someone, somewhere. Incidentally, if you Google 'Suicide' (as those thinking of it frequently do - well I did anyway) Maytree is right up there at the top.
Firstly I should take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the website which I have to admit to studying for ages in the weeks prior to my visit to Maytree - not that anything could have prepared me really. This review is not really about a website though!
---The website - www.maytree.org.uk---
Like Maytree itself, the website is simple and homely with sections about Maytree being "A Place to Go", "Someone to Talk to" and "Space to Rest and Think", along with news, Maytree in the media, reports and publications, information about how to arrange a stay, volunteering for Maytree, and how to donate (which of course is very important). The website contains all the information you need to know about Maytree, its history, what it stands for, and what it's all about. In brief it is the only place of its kind in the UK (although they are looking to set up a similar house in Bristol), and those who are feeling suicidal can come for a stay of up to 4 nights. Due to the nature of suicidal thoughts, stays at Maytree can be arranged very quickly (following an assessment to see if Maytree is right for that person - either done at Maytree or on the phone if the person is travelling from a distance as I was), and they can have up to 4 guests at any one time. For me though, I was anticipating a time period of potential suicidal crisis, so my talks with Maytree started over a month prior to my visit.
It's important to note that due to the nature of Maytree, people can only visit once, and that there is no ongoing contact following a stay (after a 'goodbye' letter and follow up phone call) which some people might not feel they can handle. It costs nothing to visit, and you will be well looked after and fed (and offered copious amounts of hot drinks) when you are there, although you are free to come and go as you please. There is a strict no alcohol/drugs (aside from prescription of course) policy, although guests are trusted to follow what few rules there are (a guest agreement is signed shortly after arrival). Hopefully during the course of my review I will say everything that needs to be said, but feel free to ask me any questions in comment on this review or in my guestbook and I'll try my best to answer.
The critical part of me would say that perhaps there could be a little bit more information on the website (perhaps about the current directors). Actually I think that to an extent the website really underplays what a truly remarkable place Maytree is, but then on the other hand I suppose it is not the place for everyone, and is not going to be the place it was for me, for everyone - this review is very much my personal experience of Maytree. Anyway, now onto the real bit...
---Extracts from my diary prior to my visit to the Maytree---
I apologise if any of this upsets those who care about me. Bear in mind that my thoughts are just how I was feeling at the time I wrote them.
11th April - Ruth suggested to Amy that I consider the Maytree Respite Centre. On reflection I think it might help me. It can't hurt.
15th April - Ruth spoke to the Maytree Respite Centre. Part of me thinks it's a good idea. Part of me is petrified. It feels too soon. There's things I have to do. But part of me thinks I should go, so I'm doing what people are wanting me to do, and then I can kill myself and I'll have done what they asked. I feel now that I am only living so as not to upset people. Is that any way to live? I'm running out of energy. I'm so scared. Scared of being left alone, with me. Surely I've got to do what's right for me? And if that means ending it all, then so be it.
16th April - I phoned the Maytree people as Ruth/Amy said. It was really awkward, the man didn't say much, and I didn't know what to say. He was nice enough, but it wasn't a good time. Although I'd waited until J and J (colleagues) had left work, others were walking through with coffee mugs. So, someone is going to phone me tomorrow. Yeah, so Maytree....I know Ruth and Amy are right that I should try and go for my birthday, to stop me killing myself. I'm scared. But then I'm scared of killing myself as well. I know I need to be somewhere safe that weekend. Somewhere where I won't kill myself. And hey, if I want to kill myself afterwards then I still can.
17th April - Man from Maytree was really nice.
19th April - Emailed Maytree. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep my head above water, I feel I'm sinking, haven't got the energy to tread the water, I might as well sink. Mad world. I don't think I actually want to be a part of it anymore. Stop the train and let me off. I am done. It is finished.
21st April - Maytree lady Paddy called. I was expecting her to be a man (Afternote - in retrospect I shouldn't have as it was Paddy I'd seen on the DVD made by 'Harmless' (a self-harm organisation) where I first learned about Maytree last year when I didn't think too much about it at the time as I wasn't feeling suicidal). Very nice. Spoke about 45 minutes, I think I was quite rude, she says I wasn't though.
27th April - I think that the sooner we all agree that my future is hopeless, the sooner we can all move on in our prospective directions. I haven't got the energy to do this and I need to face the fact that my life is over as I can't go on. Of course I will still have to write all the goodbye letters, unfair otherwise. I can't get through it, so this is the only option. I do appreciate everyone's support and of course feel terrible about the situation. But this is the way it has to be.
5th May - Know I need to phone the Maytree sometime soon, it seems to have been a long time. I do worry though that I'm nowhere near rock bottom yet. I don't know.
10th May - Think I'm getting to the stage where I can't be arsed with this diary anymore. I think I'm going to die anyway, so is there any point? Feel dead inside. Completely dead. Tired, dead inside. But look fine on the outside.
12th May - Feel so disconnected from myself. Looking at my poor arm now, and how much it looks like it is hurting. I don't even recognise it. I don't recognise me when I look in the mirror. Where am I and where have I gone, and will I ever come back? Spoke to Maytree man. Was good to talk.
13th May - For the first time I'm thinking that everything might actually work out ok. Maytree is confirmed, that's the big news. I spoke to Richard (the nice volunteer I spoke to a few weeks ago), then to the director (Gerhard) I spoke to last night. It is such a relief knowing that I don't have to kill myself on my birthday anymore. And to be somewhere where people care, and to talk. I think it will be good for me, the break from reality which feels so unreal. Perhaps the break from reality can bring me back to reality? It has to help. It has to make me feel something.
16th May - I'm wondering is I should be going to the Maytree because I think I'm actually fine. I don't know. Maybe I'm not really OK. Maybe I'm just kidding myself.
17th May - Having mixed feelings about everything. Knowing that Maytree is in place kind of averts the potential crisis. So surely that means I am no longer eligible?
18th May - Have decided it'll be best to be mobile-less while I'm at the Maytree. I could do with some time to be away from it all. I wonder what I'm doing, where I'm going. Nothing makes any sense whatsoever.
---Wednesday 19th May 2010---
Having come down from Carlisle to Essex following a full day at work including team-meeting followed by charity trustee's meeting and arriving at my parent's house pretty inebriated as a result of far too much Virgin train white wine, I woke up on Wednesday morning slightly hungover, tired and apprehensive about it all. However, my main concern was whether my Google map would take me from Finsbury Park tube station to Maytree, but I needn't have worried, it served its purpose. Already feeling slightly conspicuous having worn short sleeves on the Underground and receiving some funny looks from people as a result of the quite obvious self-harm on my arm (which prior to this had remained covered - but it was hot), I was then feeling even more conspicuous as I had to wait for the postman to post his letters through Maytree's door before I rang on the bell.
Talking to people over the course of the time there I heard stories of people's nerves as they arrived at Maytree. For me it was just sheer relief that I'd found the place and not got hopelessly lost.
It was so reassuring to be met by volunteer Richard who I'd already spoken to on the phone, and to put a friendly face to the friendly voice. Although as I learnt throughout my time, EVERYONE is a friendly face at Maytree. There is not one bad word I could say about any one of the 30-40 or so people (staff and volunteers) I was going to meet over the next 4 days...and actually that's saying something as I'm a pretty critical person!
I was shown to my room which was nice, although I spent very little time in it, aside from when asleep - bed, sink etc. All rooms have a call button in them so you can get someone to come whenever you need to, or want to talk even in the middle of the night. I was shown around the house. Sitting room, kitchen (which is where we tended to be) and office on ground floor, 'counselling rooms' on first floor, my room and a bathroom on second floor. I never ventured above the second floor, but there are more rooms, and an office above.
The afternoon passed in a blur with long conversations with volunteers, one lovely lady in particular who was the first person I had a proper conversation with at Maytree. I can't for the life of me remember her name, but that doesn't matter at Maytree. People come and go some on longer shifts than others (there are always two volunteers, including at night), and to an extent (although some people do stick in my mind more than others) they all merge into one. I had my first 'counselling' (I know at Maytree they don't refer to them as counselling sessions, but they were not much different from my own counselling sessions at home, although each director comes from a different therapeutic perspective and background) session with Gerhard, and the person I built up the closest relationship with at Maytree. I don't really recall that first session, I think I chatted merrily away (as I do), eager to fill every silence with trying to entertain him (again, as I do).
I also met fellow guest M, although we didn't really speak, kind of caught up in our own albeit very different worlds. M lost in her artwork (she had only started painting that day, and had an innate talent for expressing herself through the colours), and me gibbering on to anyone who would listen (and at Maytree they all do listen, so I was in my element). I was glad not to be the only guest at Maytree as I think I might have felt unworthy of having everyone's undivided attention. Besides I felt that the relationships I developed with M (and later on with H) were an important part of my stay at Maytree. That said, I had arrived with no pre-conceived ideas about other guests and whether or not there would be any, so I would have taken it however it came!
---Thursday 20th May 2010---
Although as a rule I generally sleep quite well (Mirtazapine is great) it took me ages to drop off. Later on I realised that it was probably due to the amount of coffee I was consuming - normally I only drink coffee at work so not in the evenings. But at Maytree I seemed to be offered an endless stream of hot drinks, and since I don't drink tea I think I was on some sort of a coffee trip - which probably only increased my talkativeness! Plus I was woken by the sound of the birds singing at 4:30am - there are far worse sounds to wake up to.
Although in the middle of London, you wouldn't know it when you're sat outside in Maytree's lovely garden. I could frequently be found having a fag on the bench watching the resident HUGE wood pigeon, or looking to see if I could see Keith the cat, or spot a squirrel, and catching some sun (we don't get much up in Cumbria!)
I was struggling with the urge to turn on my mobile phone, but I had told myself I wouldn't. If I was going to spend my time on the phone then that would be a waste of the experience. Maytree also has the advantage of not having a TV. I think it would do us all some good to get away from that for a bit (I say that as I write this review with the TV on in the background!).
I was feeling slightly less chirpy by Thursday morning, I think the initial nerves and excitement of it all had worn off a bit, and I was starting to remember why I was at the Maytree in the first place...
Having had another 'counselling' session with Gerhard I was starting to realise how much time I spend trying to entertain people. It's how I get attention. And the worse I'm feeling emotionally the stronger my need is to divert the attention away from how I'm feeling, and to change the subject, or make light of the situation. Had similar meeting with Phil (another director who was equally lovely) in the afternoon, although finding out different things about myself, it's amazing what you find out about yourself when you're led in the right direction.
It was an exhausting day, all the talking, all of the things I was learning...about stuff. I cried in the afternoon (on my own...I struggle to do it in front of people, as much as I would absolutely love to be able to sit and cry in front of people as I think it would be quite therapeutic - I think that will come in time, back in 'real-life' and I will probably spend a few weeks at some point being a snivelling mess, and that will be good) at the sound of M crying. For me it kind of epitomised human suffering in its most raw form. Ok, I'm aware I'm sounding like I'm talking complete bollocks now, when actually I'm trying to explain a profound and meaningful experience. I have never felt so sad for someone, sounding so sad. Perhaps I'm a more compassionate person that I thought I was, but it really got to me.
---Friday 21st May 2010---
I found that the high turnover of volunteers was good on several levels. I realise that it can be quite unsettling for some of Maytree's guests, and I do understand that, especially for those with social anxiety disorders. In some ways I think the constant stream of 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' (and it always made me smile when M said "have a nice life" when they left, I preferred my normal "See ya later" which seems far less final than 'goodbye') helped in preparation for the final saying goodbye on leaving Maytree. In some ways it was difficult too though, especially when you've met a certain volunteer who you really feel that you have a connection with, and you don't really want them to go. I enjoyed finding out more about the volunteers, I found myself giving them little interviews "so, how long have you been here?" "what brought you to Maytree?" Answers were varied and they aren't really important - the main thing is that the volunteers just care about people and want to help.
The best thing I felt was being able to go over and over the same story again and again, and know that I wouldn't be boring anyone since they hadn't heard it before.
I think that sometimes by going through the same things again and again it can help to make things clearer. Plus doing it with someone who listens and cares (and is caring just because they do, rather than caring because they have to care as that's what friends do), I found that I got slightly different things out of speaking to each different person. And yes, more moments of realisation and understanding about myself, and more things to think about, and to take back home with me to think about more and talk about in counselling...
To quote from my diary "They are all so lovely and kind. It's so reassuring to find that in this shitty and unfair world that there are so many lovely and kind people around. This place really is amazing. They all say how brave it was of me and M to come through the front door. I guess I didn't really think too much of it. I just followed the postman."
Started reading a book in the afternoon "Life isn't all ha ha hee hee" by Meera Syal - it kind of jumped off the shelf at me (I actually stole it when I left, but will send a copy back to Maytree). Besides I needed a break from the "Choosing to Live, how to defeat suicide through cognitive therapy" which I've been trying to work my way through all year. I did make M laugh when I told her that the advice from the book was that if one is feeling suicidal, and one has a gun, that one should give the gun to a friend (the book is American). Mind you now I come to think of it, that's not far removed from me giving my car keys to Ruth so that I'm not tempted to drive off something like a bridge which no longer exists.
A new guest H arrived in the afternoon, kind of strange now having 3 of us, but another lovely lady. I finally met Paddy who founded Maytree - a remarkable lady, and I talked with her.
Got slightly sunburnt in the afternoon. So nice being able to wear short sleeves without having to worry about what anyone might think of my arm.
It sounds a bit bizarre to say we had a lovely evening, but there were a lot of laughs, little comments which I won't ever forget, such as H saying "Just eating a banana" - you had to be there!
---Saturday 22nd May 2010---
My 29th birthday, my 6th and final wedding anniversary with my soon-to-be-ex (who I used to refer to affectionately as hubby in my reviews), and my first birthday without being with him since my 18th birthday, before we met.
Woke up feeling pretty awful which was expected, but perked up as I made the effort to get out of bed and make the most of the time at Maytree by talking to people. Had a 'counselling' session with Anja, another of the directors.
How bizarre to be sat in my pyjamas on my birthday talking about suicidal thoughts with someone I'd just met...
M left at midday. It was very sad to say goodbye. I really felt that we had a connection. Although looking back on it we didn't really say a great deal to one another, nothing needed to be said, we both understood. In some ways M leaving the house felt a bit like someone leaving the Big Brother house (although of course we were free to leave at any point - I only made trips to the shop for fags and Diet Coke), that sense of loss when a housemate has left, she left me with a leaving gift which really touched me.
I watched how M grew over the 3 days we were both at Maytree. It was quite remarkable, and visible the change in her. When I asked her if she was going to continue painting when she left Maytree she said "I think it might have saved me". I get goose bumps every time I remember her saying that.
In the afternoon I met with Gerhard again. I felt by this time that I no longer needed to fill every silence with the sound of my voice. There were silences, but they were comfortable silences. Sometimes nothing needs to be said, and that is ok too.
In the evening the volunteers, H and I had a cake for my birthday. 6 years ago on my wedding day I never would have imagined where I would be 6 years later. As I said in my diary "Not the birthday I could ever have imagined choosing. But I couldn't have spent it in a better place, or with nicer people, and I will never forget it and what they have done for me."
If it wasn't for the Maytree then maybe I wouldn't be here at all, not if I'd gone with my other plan of action.
Day survived, crisis situation abated.
---Sunday 23rd May 2010---
Had my final 'counselling' session with Gerhard in the morning (and went through a form which they use for statistical purposes for funding), I actually shed a tear, just the one, but it's progress. I feel that we came a long way over the 4 days (obviously that was not just down to one person, it was from conversations with the many people I spoke with at Maytree). I have far more understanding of myself, and where my issues are coming from, and what things I need to explore further with my own counsellor back at home.
That said, part of me wished I could just pack him in my bag and take him home with me. Or better still, bring the whole Maytree house home with me. Because the Maytree house feels far more like a home than either of my other two homes are - the one in Essex with my parents, and the one in Cumbria with my soon-to-be-ex. But I did leave feeling far stronger to face the reality of my currently unreal world.
Leaving Maytree was a bit like the end of a holiday. You know that you have to leave, and you know that you can't stay, but you wish you could have just that little bit longer before having to face the real-world. Saying 'goodbye' wasn't easy, although only 4 days, it had felt a lot longer, and in some ways it was like the end of an era. And so very very sad to know that I would never see these people again. But that is life, and life moves on, and on leaving I felt that I had got more out of the experience than I ever could have imagined.
---Back to 'real-life'---
Having seen my parents and friends back in Essex, the next day I arrived at Euston to make my way home. On arrival I found that there were no Virgin trains due to no power.
Normally that would have set off a panic reaction, but I didn't panic. Oh no, not the new me! I calmly asked someone what to do, and went back home via Kings Cross to Newcastle and then across to Cumbria. And you know what? It didn't bother me at all.
The next day I was delivering self-harm awareness training (yes, you can't really avoid the irony of coming back from a sanctuary for the suicidal to deliver self-harm training), and I couldn't find my notes. I didn't panic. The notes turned up on their own when I'd given up on looking, but I wouldn't have been bothered if they didn't. The training session I think was the best we've ever done, I think I now have a far better understanding of my own self-harm.
You might remember earlier in this review that on 16th April that I flippantly said in my diary "And hey, if I want to kill myself afterwards then I still can." I was going to Maytree with that idea in mind, and I had thought that even if I was kept safe on my birthday then I could just kill myself at the next time I had the opportunity to do so after that. But something in me has shifted, and I can honestly say that I'm not thinking like that anymore.
I'm not pretending for a minute that all of my problems are sorted out (the ending of my marriage is not going to happen overnight, and there are various issues I need to explore much further in therapy), and I'm not saying that I won't have suicidal thoughts again, because I probably will, however I would hope that now I will be better equipped to deal with them.
Although friends who have seen me have already noticed a marked difference in me, a greater self-awareness and understanding of myself, it's probably far too early to assess the long-term effects that the experience will have had on me. I'm very aware that it's not going to be an easy journey, but I'm far more confident that I will be able to get through this with the help from those who care about me, and hopefully with some support from the NHS (but we will have to wait and see about that one)! And for the first time since December I have actually felt hopeful about my future.
---Letter from Maytree---
I returned to work on Wednesday, having only been away a week (although it felt that I had been on an epic journey, and really I have been) I was soon back into the swing of things. Having my 'return to work interview' (which you need for every sickness absence) which is a regular occurrence with my line manager who is great, she asked the usual question "which box shall I tick?", and I gave my usual response "oh just tick the first one, Depression/Anxiety and write that it's an ongoing thing which Occupational Health are aware of!"
I got home from work to find three letters. One offering me the chance to walk on glass (regular readers will remember my firewalk escapades last year) in aid of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (to support my moose in Inverness) - I think I'll forego that for now! The second being a response from the NHS to my complaint about the (lack of) mental health support available in West Cumbria assuring me that I will now be seeing the legendary psychiatrist on 9th June, so we have progress there I think.
The third letter was from Gerhard at Maytree - my goodbye letter so-to-speak. I was in tears within seconds of reading it.
But, I pulled myself together and went to donate some blood to the NHS as one does (I got a badge and everything with it being my 10th donation). As I lay there giving blood the thought struck me that if I had killed myself then I wouldn't be able to give blood anymore (the thought also struck me that if I was dead then I could donate all sorts of other things - but we won't go to that sort of thought!), and how sad and what a waste that would be.
Having parted with a pint of the best B negative (how apt my blood group), I came home and re-read my letter and cried again. I know you're all dying to know what was in it, but it's too personal even for me to share with the rest of the world (although reviews don't really get much more personal than this). I will treasure that letter, it really touched me.
But that's what Maytree did, it touched me, and I know that it has touched (and saved) the lives of many people. Sadly though it won't save everyone.
Finally I just want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone at Maytree, but in particular Paddy for making it possible in the first place. I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to stay at Maytree, and words cannot really begin to express how grateful I am. I've had a good attempt with over 5000 words here, but still!
Although I would like to say thank you to every individual that I met while I was there, as everyone was special in their own way, there were just too many people, and I don't remember all their names (I've ummed and ahhed actually and I would just like to name-drop Michael as I really valued our time together). But if you're reading, I hope you know who you are...oh, and await my autobiography with eager anticipation!
To find out more about Maytree and how to get in contact or to arrange a stay or to give a donation, visit www.maytree.org.uk
A sanctuary / charity based in London which helps suicidal people