In 2016 I had been to a psychiatric hospital, had been put on medication that I hated, had seen multiple different therapists and been involved with varying different therapies and group therapies – and nothing had worked. I was still suicidal, and whenever I felt good, the mental illness would come back with a force.
Sadly in 2016 my uncle passed away, and then my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, and then I lost my job. So you can imagine that those events one by one would probably add up to a pretty severe relapse – which it did, I ended up running away from my house in the evening and walking nearly 30 minutes to the local hospital, only to find the one person there was a cleaner (if you’re reading this and you’re the cleaner and you recognise the story, thanks so much!). She must have been absolutely terrified because this random girl walked in, wearing pyjamas, sobbing hysterically, and just standing there. She asked me if I was alright and I told her outright that I wanted to kill myself. The natural solution in someone’s brain when this happens is to call an ambulance, which she did. She also tried to call the other mental health services like out of hours but (as usual) they were pretty useless.
In credit to this cleaner, she was absolutely lovely. She asked if I wanted a drink and found a hospital blanket for me, and she tried to ask me what was wrong but when I didn’t speak, she didn’t press me. The ambulance came and the two crew were the nicest ambulance crew I have ever met in my life, they were so funny, and they made me feel better in under an hour. The rest is history. After that, I decided I needed a bit more help. I typed into google “suicidal help” and it was all the usual stuff, Samaritans, that kind of thing. I typed in “suicidal clinic” next, mainly because I didn’t know what else to type in. Something called “Maytree Suicidal Sanctuary” popped up (underneath a bunch of news articles about assisted suicide) and I clicked on it.
Their website is welcoming and calming, and they have all of the necessary and quick information right there on the homepage. Maytree is exactly what it says on the tin, a sanctuary for the suicidal. They’re a registered charity and they offer suicidal people a 4 night, 5 day stay for FREE at their little house in London. Up to 5 people can stay with them at any one time. They run entirely off of donations and sponsors, and everyone that you speak to when you’re staying there is a volunteer.
If you’re wondering how it works, I did too. The process is like this: You call them or email them and let them know what you’re going through and that you’d like to arrange to stay with them. They will then arrange an assessment with you, either at the house or over the phone. The assessment is with one of their volunteers and every single volunteer is so warm and welcoming that the assessment basically feels like you’re chatting to a friend.
For myself, I had 3 phone calls with a volunteer before I was offered a place at Maytree – which I’m presuming was to track my mood and make sure that I was 100% certain I needed help at Maytree. The catch about Maytree is that you can only go once, you can’t get support from their system after your stay, it’s a one off experience. This means the people staying there need to be absolutely sure that they need the Maytree help at that exact time in their life, as they won’t get it again.
After you’re offered a place (for me, it was within 3 weeks to a month of my first initial contact with them) you will sort out your stay. When you stay at Maytree you get your own room, and the Maytree house is just a normal house on a normal street. They have a living room, 5 (or maybe more, I can’t remember) bedrooms, a kitchen and also a lovely garden. I decided to stay with them from a Monday to the Friday since in my brain that made the most sense, and before I knew it, I was there.
There’s no guarantee who you’re staying with at Maytree, it might be just you or there may be 4 other guests so the house is full. However, people don’t always choose to start their stay on a Monday, so there are always a rotating amount of people. When I arrived there were two women already there, I won’t say their names in this post because of privacy but I’ll call them fake names – Emma and Jane. Emma was closer to my age, very funny and bubbly, and I never would’ve thought that I’d meet someone like her in a suicidal sanctuary. Jane was older, I believe she had kids but I can’t remember how many (Sorry Jane!) and she was quieter but definitely seemed just as kind as Emma. Jane had been there 2 days already, and Emma had been there 1 day. We got along almost immediately because the volunteers were there to open up conversation and it made it a lot less awkward.
On my first night we had a homemade meal made by a volunteer (we always had this, for every meal apart from breakfast) and Emma and I decided we wanted to bake something. We trekked to the shops in London and bought the ingredients, and then made possibly the WORST looking cheesecake you have ever seen in your life. It was so much fun to make, and we were chatting with the volunteers and laughing throughout the entire night.
The best thing about Maytree is they are a befriending service. The volunteers rotate every 2-3 hours, so throughout the day you get to speak to and meet at least 5-6 different groups of people. The volunteers are there to keep you company, but their main purpose is to talk to. Sometimes the volunteers would offer to speak to you, and they took you into a quiet room like one of their befriending rooms (just smaller rooms with chairs and a table) or the living room. You would talk for up to 2 hours at a time, just about you and your life and your problems. That’s what makes it different to therapy, they don’t try and fix it for you. They don’t interrupt you and there’s no time limit for you to tell your whole story in. They just let you explain yourself and your feelings and they genuinely listen to what you’re saying and understand.
I’m not going to say it’s easy, and it’s all plain sailing, because it isn’t. I cried a lot and I spent hours in my room just crying, because when you’re speaking to volunteers for hours of the day at a time about every single trauma you’ve ever experienced, it’s exhausting and draining. Your brain can’t compute what’s going on so you’re just tired all the time. However, the bright side is that the volunteers understand this. They are always there to talk to, even if you’ve just spoken to someone for 2 hours and you’re still upset so you need to talk again. There’s someone at the house with you 24/7, even overnight, so if you have a bad night there’s someone there to help.
As the days go on, the talks get easier. It’s amazing how talking out loud and working through your problems in that way helps so much. As you end up getting closer to the end of your stay, you have less to say and more time to listen to what the volunteers have to say. They don’t give you advice, because that would defeat the point, but they open your eyes to situations and experiences in a different way that you didn’t see it in before. One person who did this for me more than any of the volunteers was a lady called Rose. I hope she doesn’t mind me using her name, because I feel as though she needs recognition. She is so softly spoken and calm, it instantly made me feel at ease. The 2 hour talk I had with her was my second to last talk with a volunteer at Maytree, and it changed my life. She made me realise things that I never would’ve seen before, and she was so understanding and empathetic.
The saddest times of the Maytree experience were actually when the other two guests left. It was horrible, we had created such a bond together through board games and supporting each other that we completely forgot we’d all be leaving Maytree at different times. Jane left first, and Emma and I made her a card and wrote her letters to say goodbye. It was sad to see her go because you could tell she had made so much progress at Maytree and she didn’t want to leave. The day after, Emma left. This really took a toll on me because after Emma left, I was the only guest left in the house. There was someone due to arrive on my last day at Maytree (I didn’t end up staying for that but you’ll see why later), but for an entire day and night I was the only person there. There wasn’t anyone to bake with, or play board games with, or talk to, or feel comfortable around.
That’s what I thought, anyway. On my first night there alone, I think all of the volunteers could sense I was extremely low and not feeling great. I had THE BEST volunteers on that night (which ended up being my last night) and I am so thankful for every single one of them I met that night. There was an eccentric man who was older than the rest of the volunteers, who made us chilli and he taught me a couple of new board games that I didn’t know about. There was a jolly middle aged man who spoke to me for 2 hours about conspiracy theories, aliens, anything along those lines. There was also Angela, who was a regular volunteer and I believe she was one of the ‘manager’ type people (I may have gotten that wrong, sorry Angela!) and she had dinner with us that night too. It felt like a little family, and I didn’t feel alone.
I left Maytree a day early. This was because after my talk with Rose, and after an amazing last night with the volunteers I mentioned, I felt as if I was done. What I had gone to Maytree for was no longer a problem for me, I no longer wanted to die, and I felt comfortable enough that I could leave without suddenly relapsing and crumbling to the floor. Leaving Maytree was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life to date. It was so upsetting that I only had one final catch up call with Rose after my stay and then after that catch up call, nothing. I knew I would be okay though, because they had helped me this far, and now it was time to help myself.
The last thing that Angela said to me before I left the building was this – “Put your happy music on!”
You could help someone like me.