For the past six weeks I’ve hardly left the house. I’ve read many, many books and I’ve watched even more films. I’ve re-read books that made me happy in the past and I’ve re-watched movies that gave me a glow the first, second and third times I saw them in cinemas. In short, I’ve switched myself off from the ‘real world’ and immersed myself in a fictional reality where, although there’s not always a happy ending, the story has enough hope for me to know I’ll get up and see what the next day might hold.
I’ve been here before. I was here at 19. I was here at 21. At 24. At 34, 36, 42, and 48.
I tried to avoid giving it a name. I’ve called it ‘feeling a little down’, ‘being a bit weepy’, ‘premenstrual’, ‘postmenstrual’, ‘hormonal’, ‘menopausal’, you name it, I’ve hoped that’s what it was. My mother used to tell me that people who said they were “depressed” had too much time on their hands and that being depressed was a luxury nobody should be able to afford. A luxury 😦
I hit rock bottom aged 19: my beloved Nan had died the year before, during my A-levels, an ex-boyfriend with whom I was still close, died in a motorbike accident and my best friend, rock and confidante left our village for university. I’ve never felt so isolated and bewildered. Added to this I was also being sexually harrassed in my first job and had no idea how to handle it. I spoke to my parents once about it and was told that if I wore skirts that tight then I was leading him on; “asking for it”.
After being diagnosed with ‘social anxiety’, I swallowed a handful of the Valium I’d been prescribed and, still capable of catching the bus to work, promptly passed out at my desk the second I arrived. After a brief but violent trip to the hospital followed by an appointment with the psychiatric unit, I was allowed home with my parents under strict instructions to take good care and keep an eye on me.
My mother took this to mean that it was her responsibility to hide anything sharp in the house, lock the medicine cabinet and put chemicals and alcohol out the way of the weak one. This had been my cry for help. Deep down, all I wanted was for my parents to put their arms round me, tell me they hadn’t realised how crap my life had been until now and that from this moment on, everything was going to change – that they loved me and they’d be supportive and enthusiastic in whatever apsirations I might have. That they’d been wrong to not allow me to follow my dreams of going to art college, and that it wasn’t too late; they hadn’t realised how lucky they were until they’d seen me with those tubes stuck down my throat.
Because that was what happened in films and books. That defining moment when the tears start and the realisation begins and the whole thing turns a corner. Only for me,it didn’t. My ‘moment of drama’ they called things like ‘selfish’, ’embarrassing’ and ‘ungrateful’ – how could I have done this to them? This showed just how little I appreciated my life if I was prepared to throw it away as easily as that. They didn’t talk to me for weeks and when they dropped me off at the Psych Unit once a week, they waited in the car outside the hospital in case they bumped into anybody they knew inside.
This time (and I can’t even promise it will be the last, because how can you?) I am lucky that I have the strength and support of a wonderful husband and an incredible daughter who keep me afloat; listen to me, cry with me, sit with me when I’m quiet and hug me whenever they’re in the same room.
Somebody at work, just before I was signed off, looked at me askance and said “Really? But you come across as such a confident, happy person.” This remark came after I’d told her I hadn’t felt able to join a writers’ group because I didn’t believe I was good enough; that I’d probably just sit silently and wish I could run away. I didn’t know at the time why I’d said this to her – I usually don’t open up, I like to avoid talking about me at all cost – but in hindsight perhaps that was the beginning of this time’s ‘call for help’. Four days later I stood in the kitchen with a recently sharpened carving knife in my hand wondering how hard I’d have to press to quickly get through my ribs and on into my heart without it hurting and causing too much of a mess.
Guilt grounded me and, still holding the knife, I heard my counsellor’s voice from months ago telling me I needed to speak to my doctor. I made the call.