Wednesday 17 February 2021

I Don't Need Them Any More: The Day Fran Relinquished her Stash of Meds

Trigger warning: medication and suicidality

stash (stæʃ)
COUNTABLE NOUN: A stash of something valuable is a secret store of it.
Synonyms: hoard, supply, store, stockpile

A few weeks ago, Fran sent me a photograph. I immediately recognised the meds containers lined up on her bathroom cabinet for what they were, and what they represented.

Martin: Your old stash?

Fran: Yep.

Martin: You’re ready to let go.

Fran: Yep.

Fran had a stockpile of medication when we met in 2011. I don’t remember when she told me but it was never a secret. It wasn’t easy to accept that my new and frequently suicidal friend kept a quantity of potentially fatal medication, but I came to understand it was important to Fran, and paradoxically protective. We discuss its significance in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

Most of our conversations on the subject [of suicidality] focus on exploring and defusing her suicidal thoughts, but we occasionally touch on how she imagines she would kill herself. In her autobiographical essay “Lessons of the Night,” she wrote: “I still do have a stash of pills because I do feel that people should have that right, especially when you are old and everyone else is making decisions for you.” We talk about what her stockpile represents, why she keeps it, and whether she anticipates ever disposing of it. I have never told, or even asked, her to do so.

when i was very ill a friend gave me a lethal amount of pills.. i never asked why.. i was just grateful to add to my stash.. the strength it took to resist that temptation was herculean.. many times i’d take them all out affectionately counting them and googling their effectiveness.. i needed the insurance to escape.. perhaps because this was the only thing in my life i had control over.. and i needed to do it my way, not everyone else’s way..

You might disagree with my acceptance of Fran keeping a potentially lethal collection of tablets close to hand, but my reasoning is threefold. First, I would have no way of knowing for sure if Fran had complied with any order or suggestion of mine to dispose of her tablets. Second, an overdose of tablets is statistically less likely to be fatal than other methods she might adopt. Third, and most important of all, I believe it is important to keep the dialogue open between us, and for Fran to take responsibility for her safety.

No matter the opinion of others, her stash has been a vital component of Fran’s strategy for self-preservation for many years. She voluntarily disposed of approximately half the tablets some time ago. Persuading or forcing her to get rid of the rest before she is ready would not only damage our relationship, it would deny her the opportunity to reach that decision on her own.

And now, after all these years, Fran had reached her decision. Ironically, she has no recollection of halving her stockpile back in 2013. She wasn’t at all well back then, following a traumatic summer traveling in Europe. The following is excerpted from our book:

We always knew the summer would be an immense challenge for Fran, and anticipated an extended period of rest and recuperation afterwards. Instead, she returned from Europe needing to find a new home, pack up her belongings, and move from the little house she had lived in for seven years.

As our chat history shows, she nevertheless decided to get rid of half her meds as she decluttered and prepared to move home.

Martin: Thanks for the photo. That’s quite a stash. Did you realise you had so much? I imagine this is the first time you have taken them all out for a while?

Fran: Yes.. I never have.. I will keep some.. And get rid of others..

She sent another photo later.

Martin: Is that all you are keeping?

Fran: Yes..

Martin: Well done. Proud of you. How do you feel?

Fran: I feel OK.. Could have let go of more.. But glad of what I did do..

Coming back to the present day, Fran followed through on her intention. We discussed it on our call that evening.

Fran: I took my meds to the police station today and handed them over.

Martin: How did it feel?

Fran: It felt good. It didn’t feel big and dramatic.

Martin: I sensed that, when you were talking about it the other day. It is a big thing because you had them for years, but at the same time it’s not dramatic, because it’s the right time for you to give them up.

Fran: Yeah. I was doing all this clearing out in my apartment and it just made sense to clear that out too. I want to get to a place where I only have things that matter to me in the apartment.

Martin: And you don’t need them any more?

Fran: That’s right. I walked half an hour there and half an hour back, so I got my exercise too!

Martin: Win:win!

To say I’m proud of her doesn’t begin to capture how I feel. It’s not that she was doing anything wrong and has finally seen the error of her ways. Far from it. There’s a tiny part of me tucked away somewhere that wonders how things will be for Fran in the future, without her stash of medication, when it’s been part of her life — and part of her wellness toolbox — for so long. We’ll take that as it comes. What I’m absolutely and unreservedly proud about is that Fran took this decision on her own, and feels so good about it.

Fran is not alone in having stockpiled medication or other items related to suicide, such as goodbye letters. Whether these were felt to be protective (as Fran always considered her stash) or not at the time, people I’ve spoken to who’ve chosen voluntarily to relinquish them speak of relief, or of it being a big step in their journey towards wellbeing.

Do you have any similar experiences you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.


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