In September 2015 I finally worked up the courage to go to a doctor and ask for help. I didn’t even do it for myself. At that point I was so far removed from any sense of reality that my friend had to make me promise to do it for him, not for me. I’d been through it all before. Twice since I was 13 I’d had to go through my GP and the mental heal service to seek help for what amazingly took until I was 18 to diagnose, and twice I’d been released by counsellors and consultants after only a few months of what can hardly be called treatment.
In the Spring of 2015 I suffered through abuse during the marriage referendum and campaigned tirelessly to secure equal rights for myself and for people like me. When the results came in and I saw we’d won, I didn’t react. The following week I saw my sister move away and my parents split up, all in the space of a few days, but I didn’t react. I just shrugged it off and carried on with life. A couple of weeks later I moved in with my dad in an entirely new city where I knew no one, and a day later my own relationship ended, and then I finally cracked. I’d been teetering on the edge for months without noticing, managing to hold on by focusing on studying. I’d been having a crisis of identity, with my nationality, with my sexuality, with my future. I’d given up the life I was building in Dublin only that January when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in politics rather than music. By the middle of July I didn’t recognise anything around me. I didn’t have my family, I didn’t have my home, I didn’t have my boyfriend. I just sat there in my room staring at the wall, suffocating. I quickly found a social life in Galway in which I could submerge myself, but unsurprisingly it all revolved around heavy drinking and nights out, probably not the best cure for my situation at the time.
I’ve dealt with substance abuse before. When I was 15 I was sent to the HSE Addiction Service near where I lived to see a counsellor for several months. It helped temporarily, but I never learnt how to cope. I was told once again to just think of something else when I felt anxious or angry or depressed. I was told to just breathe it out, that any cravings would go away in a few minutes. They weren’t wrong, but that was no permanent solution. It worked as long as I was already mentally stable, and for the time being I was. When that counsellor moved away I opted to leave the service rather than starting right from the beginning with someone new; I’d already seen six other mental health professionals that year.
So I found myself drunk, night after night, barely able to function during the day, barely even seeing sunlight for two weeks. It was easily mistaken for just being part of settling into a new place, making new friends and enjoying the summer as an 18 year old. For the most part it was, but I was becoming increasingly reliant upon it. I recognised the pattern, but I believed I could master it this time. Even when others, my friends and family, began to pick up on the extent of my drinking, they barely mentioned it. It has always been something that crops up every now and then, but it was always something that could be turned into a joke. That August I picked up and left for Dublin with the plan of basically seshing out the last ten days of summer. I had no plan beyond that, not even a plan for where I’d stay. It wasn’t until one of the last days that I finally got scared into feeling I had to do something about it. I collapsed on the floor of Starbucks one morning and came around to see a stranger shaking me awake. I’d got to a point where I wasn’t sleeping or eating, only drinking. Those six weeks alone had left me physically and mentally scarred.
When I returned to Galway I finally asked my dad for money so I could see the GP about it. I’d only been in the doctor’s office for ten minutes before I’d been prescribed anti-depressants and been given a referral to the youth mental health service, Jigsaw. In my mind this was moving fantastically fast. I was surprised at the competency, given everything I’d previously heard and experienced. I went to my first session at Jigsaw and it seemed promising, I thought I was getting some solid support that would allow me to get back on track. At that first session though I must have said something that set off alarm bells. They immediately made me an emergency appointment with my GP and a suicide crisis nurse for that afternoon, and he then sent me straight to A&E at University Hospital Galway with a letter for the consultant on call. I didn’t really understand what was going on beyond the fact that my case seemed urgent. I’ve been in A&E many a time before with broken limbs and suspected meningitis, but this time my wait lasted a mere thirty minutes. Within the two hours I’d been seen by a nurse and a consultant, I’d been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and OCD, and I had been set up with an appointment in outpatients for the following week. I went home completely exhausted.
But that wasn’t the end of it. I got a call a few days later from Jigsaw telling me there was no need to come in for my next appointment because the psychiatric department at the hospital was taking my case. That hit me hard. It’s rare to find a counsellor you can connect with and feel comfortable with, but I had that ripped away so I could start right at the beginning with someone brand new, once again. That was a complete lack of continuity. In the psychiatric department in Galway I ended up seeing four different consultants, each of them only once, and only one of whom showed me any kind of respect. The rest felt the approach of speaking down to me and lecturing me on how my lifestyle isn’t healthy was the best course of action, despite that being precisely what I was seeking help for. For months I ended up seeing a community nurse every other week, and while it helped keep my head above water, it wasn’t what I needed.
At the end of September my sister’s boyfriend got into an accident in Romania and was left in a coma with serious burns and brain damage. Like with everything else I felt a painful sense of déjà vu. Only the year before her last boyfriend had killed himself. Once is hard enough, so I put on a strong face and tried to be there for her while I saw the people around me suffer. I’d been just about managing to hold on with the limited support available, but that one event sent me back into a spiral. By November I was suicidal, I was self-harming and I was drunk more often than not. I’d been prescribed anti-depressants and had had the dosage upped. I’d been prescribed anti-psychotics and sedatives, none of which I touched. I kept asking for referrals to CBT, to DBT, to the addiction service, and I was always promised that by my next meeting with the community nurse I would have a date for an appointment, but I never did. I disappeared from my friends, I stopped studying, I’d fall asleep with a bottle of rum in my arms and I’d only ever leave the house to go to outpatients or to buy more drink, but I was left without a referral. In December I came within minutes of dying and yet still nothing was done to get me the help I needed. I was so paranoid and erratic that my relationship with both my parents almost completely collapsed. When the mental health budget was cut in April I felt physically crushed. I was beyond exhausted, I felt defeated.
Around that time something clicked after I managed to lose my wallet, passport and teeth due to the amount I had drunk, so I slowly began to gather myself together. I was only a couple of months away from my A2 exams and I had only covered one module in one subject. Studying has always been my saving grace, but I had been so debilitated that I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. For those last few months I managed to stop drinking almost entirely and I focused on preparing for exams. I was preparing to move to Bath almost immediately after exams when I was told, a week before I left for England to sit my last four papers, that I was about to be put on the waiting list to see an addiction counsellor, and that I could be bumped up the list immediately if I wanted. It had taken eight months just for a referral letter to be written, and they hadn’t even got my name right.
The pressure, the frustration and my desperation to get out of where I was kept me focused, but as soon as it was over at the end of June I spiralled again. It took me until last week to seek help all over again. I managed to get into a good university, I managed to fix many broken relationships, and I’m doing well in most regards, but I got to a point where I was so crippled by anxiety and depression that I didn’t know, and still don’t know how to face the world without being under the influence of one thing or the other. I’m now on my fifth day of a trial run of being sober, and it has taken me suffering through panic attacks, sleepless nights, cold sweats and hallucinations just to get my mind to function enough to put any of this into words. I’m furious. If I had simply got the treatment I needed and asked for this time last year, I wouldn’t be in this position.
I wasn’t just let down by the Irish mental health service, I was abandoned by it.