[Written as part of Time to Talk Day, part of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness]
Post #2 that I wish I didn’t have to write. Everything written so far has been leading up to it. This illness is ugly. It has led me to say terrible things that I never meant and do things that I’ve regretted every day since. I have left jobs, lost friends and destroyed people I love. My anxiety is not an excuse but it is part of an explanation. One of my best friends asked why I was doing this to myself, dragging up the past and putting myself through it all over again. Whilst every fibre of me hates writing this post, it’s important that people recognise the extent of the effect this illness has had on me, just how far I’ve fallen and how much I have lost (almost) entirely at my own hands.
And so, my absolute lowest moments, in chronological order. On a personal level, there were probably worse days than these but these were the destructive days where I broke hearts and lives. To all the players in these tales, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
It’s summer 2007 and I’m in the middle of my A Levels. The night before a Classics exam, I get too drunk. I know I’m underprepared for the exam and so I’m creating an alternative excuse for everything going wrong. I come home and then leave again in the middle of the night determined to walk a friend home in the pouring rain.
My parents, realising that I’ve left, drive after me and pick me up soaked to the skin, seething at how drunk I am and how stupid I’m being, an exam that will shape my future only hours away. They have never been so angry. There is shouting and swearing and I, in a drunken panicked state become increasingly hysterical and scared about what I have done. In my hysteria, I convince myself that I cannot possibly stay at home. I phone a friend and beg him to pick me up at a ridiculous hour to drive the 20 miles to sixth form.
I wake at 5am, still drunk and sneak downstairs, packed bags in hand. She is leaving home, as The Beatles sang. My mother hears and follows; cue more fighting, more tears and desperate shrieks. I run out of the house and along the road as fast as I can go before darting down a cul-de-sac, sure she is following. She is, I see our car drive past minutes later. I hide in an alcove in a hedge and call my getaway driver.
I phone another friend once I arrive at sixth form, still panicking, but when she passes me over to her mother, I immediately hang up. Adults are the enemy. I receive a barrage of texts from my parents all day, threatening and pleading, desperate for me to take the exam and come home. It is my mother’s 50th birthday. It will be 3 days yet before I go home. This is my first serious episode.
I fail that exam. I don’t completely flunk my A Levels but I don’t do as well as originally expected. I miss my grades for university spectacularly; they let me in anyway. A new chapter of my life starts but it’s not adulthood, it’s vague awareness that something is wrong.
By summer 2012 I somehow have a law degree, a job as a paralegal, a long term boyfriend and we share a pretty little flat near the sea. We are almost 3 years into this relationship and on paper, our lives are everything we could ask for at 23. Paper and reality differ.
It’s late May and we are fighting. I don’t remember what first started it now. I doubt I remembered by the time we reached this point in the fight. I am hysterical and irrational, struggling for breath, running from room to room in our tiny flat. My boyfriend can’t calm or reason with me. This is by now beyond the realms of an argument. I am a hurricane, a girl possessed and there is nothing to be done but let me rage and wail until I’m so exhausted that I can’t continue. We’ve been here before. We’ve been here too many times before and I am losing him. Usually, I wear myself out and fall into a deep dreamless sleep until the following morning. Today is different though; the rage and confusion and terror are all stronger than they have ever been and I’m showing no signs of burning out.
Eventually, hours in, I collapse in the dark of our hallway, a desolate little figure huddled among coats and shoes. I have stormed out of the flat half a dozen times, returning within minutes, afraid of everything, desperate for my boyfriend to find a way to make this stop. He can’t, he doesn’t even know where to begin. He’s a 23 year old man, living alone with a seriously ill 23 year old girl who can’t provide a single reason as to why she’s in this awful state. How do you begin to fix her? We are both too young for how much pressure I am placing on us.
I sit on the floor of the hallway, still crying, still unable to breathe. I’m slouched against our front door, sapped of energy, knees drawn up to my chest, rocking and muttering like a madwoman. He stands in the doorway to the living room, equally exhausted, and asks what I’m doing. I learn in that moment that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Through the tears, I mumble in sheer desperation that I’m praying and resume muttering a plea to make it all stop. I am not religious but in that moment I truly believe that the only way I can be delivered out of the darkness is by way of a higher power. All other hope is gone.
He can’t make it stop and as expected, there’s no spiritual intervention that saves me. I don’t get better. We don’t know where to start in stopping any of this. We struggle through another unhappy year together. We break up in terrible acrimonious circumstances that end with us despising each other. We both behave badly. The man who was my best friend, who called me his little bear, who bought me what remains my favourite piece of jewellery, who wrote about Christmas in our first home together believing there was a future, is gone.
I move back home. I quit my job. I slowly start to improve. I move to London. I meet a boy. I have learnt from past experience and on our third date with the man who would become my boyfriend, I tell him absolutely everything. He tells me all his deepest darkest secrets that nobody else knows. A month in, I tell him not to get any more involved with me because I’m too much of a mess and I will end up breaking his heart. He tells me that I’m a beautiful mess and we’ll get through it together. I start falling in love with him in that moment; how can I not? Time passes. It is spring 2015 and we have been together for eight months.
I am better than I was three years ago. I recognise that there’s a problem. I know roughly what is needed to control it. I have a lot of happy days and I’m in love. I have been on an NHS waiting list for therapy for four months and I am two months away from being eligible for private medical insurance at work. I have contacted over 30 therapists in south London and the City, trying to find someone I can afford and with availability but it turns out that all of London needs therapy and my options are limited. We both prefer me off medication and I’m not convinced it helps but I keep experimenting, hoping to find something that will calm me for long enough that I can fix things. I need therapy and I can’t get it and I am despairing. My boyfriend is despairing of me.
We wake up in my flat one Sunday morning, both hungover. We have been at an engagement party the night before for his friend where he had spent the night ignoring me, I had felt alone and once again decided that gin is a coping mechanism. Hungover and sad, I ask him to leave then immediately know this isn’t what I mean to say. We fight, he storms out, I cry, ask him to stay, repeat repeat repeat. He says and does a lot in the space of an hour in that flat that means we are doomed and I can never forgive him. It wouldn’t matter if I could because his cards are then marked and certain of my friends are baying for blood. They still are.
I hate him and don’t want to see him but still I beg him to stay, I cannot be alone. If I’m left alone, I know I will die that afternoon. My brain is not controlling my actions anymore, my little demons of Pain and Panic are acting as puppet masters and I’m watching this all unfold as an out-of-body experience. Bad things are going to happen and I’m going to be helpless to stop them. I ask him to take me to hospital, this has all become too much and now I am afraid of everything and everyone. As soon as I say this, I’m immediately too scared to go to hospital and beg him not to make me go. He hates how indecisive I am when I get like this but he reluctantly stays with me until I calm down and give in to the exhaustion.
We keep trying to make it work and we manage a few more great months together which include some of the best days of my life but are interspersed with more bad moments, although never to the same extent. That awful day in the spring remains in his mind and he can’t quite forgive me for it (although I try my hardest to forgive him for his part in it all); it lingers over everything. We break up and manage two days without speaking to each other before being tearfully reunited. He clings to me that whole night, so glad to have me back and we promise each other we’ll be okay and find a way through this.
A week later, I have one final awful slow-burning panic attack and in having it, I break his heart. We break up. It breaks me. Another week later, I finally start that desperately wanted therapy but it’s too late to help us. I’m that beautiful mess and I get through it completely alone. We muddle through trying to find a way to some sort of friendship for a few months. It’s too hard for either of us and he cuts all contact. It takes that before he manages to break my heart. In the months following, he behaves abysmally on a sporadic basis and I desperately try to cling on to the new-found semblance of stability I have found because I can’t risk being dragged back under.
Fin. A decade of pain and regret. I’m not unique in that, we’ve all made regrettable decisions that have shaped our lives. It’s just that all of mine have the same root cause and I’ve felt powerless throughout. These don’t feel like choices or decisions I made, they feel like tsunamis. I’m too harsh on myself, after years of ruminating on the same disasters. Please know that the other players in these stories are not heroes and I am not the villain – although I’ve perhaps written them that way. I’m my biggest critic but nothing is black and white, we’re all terrible and murky. They did and said terrible, awful, hateful things themselves.
#1 is the story of youthful indiscretion and an only child who always felt too much pressure on her.
#2 is the tale of an incredibly insecure and confused girl who wanted love to be enough to save her. That boyfriend was, at one point, the best man I knew and I believe my mental health in the latter half of our relationship forced him to become a man I didn’t recognise. I hope the years apart from me have restored him. There was so much pain that I can’t remember loving him, yet I think he has a permanent piece of my medium-sized heart. It all remains steeped in hurt and regret. I fear it always will.
#3 isn’t a story about me. It’s about a man with issues of his own, partly projecting them on to me and how the combination of the two of us together amplified my problems to levels they shouldn’t have reached. I will always love him but ultimately he wasn’t happy enough in himself to be loved. Regardless of my mental state, there would have always been another problem he kept in reserve, ready to force on me and unfortunately, I don’t have the resilience to withstand that. I wish I did. I am sad that it happened but I don’t regret my actions in the way I do those first two anecdotes.
None of them the fault of mental illness alone, it has acted as a catalyst on all of them and without it, I suspect there was a very different path to be taken at the end of each these little tales of woe. My life has been subject to anxiety’s choices and I have hated writing this more than I can ever explain.