They Say I’m Doing Well
Authors Raising Mental Health Awareness
Copyright © 2016
Authors Raising Mental Health Awareness
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First Shakespir Edition, MAY 2016
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For those ‘doing well’
This project came together when I heard the Leeds Author Event 2016 was supporting Mind, the mental health charity. Rachel Brightey and Jo Curtis (Hourglass Events) are the masterminds of the signing event and supported me when I suggested this project in conjunction with the book signing on March 5th, 2016.
Many charity anthologies have done well in the past, one of which I had been previously a part of: the PYB (Wordy Warriors) project for Cancer Research which raised over £1,000 with words and tireless enthusiasm.
“They Say I’m Doing Well” was a theme my husband suggested for this project. It has so many connotations. Sometimes people seem well, but they aren’t – this is so relevant with regards to mental illness, as well as physical illness. Many of us endure personal and family strife. Work issues. Sometimes only a few people will know exactly what you’re going through while everyone else remains clueless. We all go through life and experience difficulties at some time or another. Those that don’t are rare, if non-existent.
Mind UK says that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. So, even if you haven’t, you’re likely to know someone who has – and the point of this project, for me, and everyone involved, was to spread awareness, end stigma and discrimination of people dealing with mental health problems.
Some people, for whatever reason, don’t get the help they need and this project is to assure everyone coping with a mental health problem that they are not alone in their thoughts, not at all. Not only that, but there’s help out there. To seek help is brave.
There are some people we lose to mental health problems. We only hope our words and the money we raise helps – maybe even saves one person’s life. We’re trying to spread a message of mindfulness and encourage people to reach out to others who are not coping.
Everyone involved in producing this book wrote something either titled by or including the words “They Say I’m Doing Well” and each and every author brought their own unique take on this theme.
On behalf of all the authors, I’d like to say thank you for reading and if you are inspired by this book at all, that’s all the recompense we need.
–Sarah Michelle Lynch–
Find out more about the blog tour:
They say I’m doing well…
Am I? Really?
The pain consumes me, ravishing my weary body.
Will it ever end? Will I ever sleep?
Twisting, shooting, stabbing, gripping.
A never-ending cycle soothed by a myriad of pills and heat.
Cool water washes the tablets down and
I curl up tight, consoling my aching curves.
Unwelcome drowsiness, finally takes effect.
The warm medicinal blanket soothes my severed nerves.
They say I’m doing well … managing this illness,
But they don’t see me at dawn, in agony and pain.
They say I’m doing fine… being positive about my progress.
I’m trying very hard – after all, I have a reputation to maintain.
To most I am ‘fine’, for the mask is firmly fixed in place.
The lipstick is on; the cheeks rosy, the bright smile fake.
Only the closest of friends and family know my secret,
the torment I go through, each day I wake, each step I take.
I smile through unshed tears, pain ripping through my body,
as I chat with a colleague, or friend, or my son.
Screaming silently, I nod in all the right places;
Life is as it should be to all.
Another day has passed, another day is done.
My strength makes me proud; I control this illness.
Despair cloaks me in blackness, but positivity lets the light back in.
Those good days I embrace, and I live my life freely,
for when the bad days come, and they will,
I’ll indulge and give in.
They say I am doing well … what do they know?
I’ll be the judge of that, I will say if I am doing well.
Today may be a day where I want to scream and yell,
tomorrow one where I’m invincible and not living this hell.
One thing I know, my pain makes me strong.
I won’t let this beat me, this illness of mine.
I’m determined to not lose the person that I am.
The laughter bubbles, despite my ongoing decline.
The support I gain from my family and friends,
helps me fight this condition that may never end.
They say I’m doing well. I’ve heard them talk in the corridors, discussing the meetings. If I practise what I have been taught, I’ll get through this with the tablets they suggest.
I’m not sure they really understand how I’ve been feeling, or if they are listening to the words I’m not saying. The times I hold my breath before I answer. Do they realise I’m using that time to think of a reason for what I need to say to satisfy their questions? To please them so they think they are achieving a good outcome from our limited time together?
Sometimes when I hear the pen tapping on the notebook I think I have been found out. My excuses have been seen through but nothing is said and another appointment is made, my cover-up worked.
The million-dollar question is when. When did it all begin, the cold sweats, the panic in my chest, the need to leave a room as soon as I enter, the thoughts in the pit of my stomach. But I don’t know. I’ve explained my past, about my insecurities in my youth, but nothing pin points the exact moment because there isn’t one. It’s manageable they have told me, it will pass, I must learn to control it. I’ve tried, oh my god have I tried, but the feelings that I can’t explain creep in before I can contain them.
I hoped after the first few years, after it started, that the pain would dull, but instead I’ve learnt to disguise the anguish.
Which has led me here tonight.
I hope when you read this, a new life can begin and this moment will be a distant memory. I hope I am not a horrible memory and one you can forgive, someone you can learn from when you think there is no one who understands what you are going through.
I wanted to write to you on parchment paper with a black fountain pen. The words seem to flow better when the ink glides over the grooved paper. It stops me thinking if what I am writing is my true inner feelings or not. I don’t have time to pause, you will see, if I do the ink leaves a blob. I don’t want that, I want to write what I need to say in one sitting, no smudges, no errors.
I wanted to let you know that no matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad your day is, it can not get any worse, things pass. Time passes. That feeling you are having will pass and move on to another.
I’ve learnt that the future can not frighten you when you aren’t in it.
The past cannot be changed, and the present moves on to the future.
But I’m too late now to take that all on board. I wish someone had this letter for me when I was at my lowest and then maybe, just maybe I would be learning to cope better instead of fading away.
Writing this to you I hope will make it easier, I hope what I have gone through will give you strength and I hope you don’t make the same mistake I did when I thought I couldn’t go on. The mess I’ve left behind is worse than my darkest day.
I thought I could cope, I thought I could control the urges that overwhelmed me. But, but they consumed me, smothered me until they choked me.
I stopped asking for help.
I stopped looking for solutions.
I stopped dreaming of a future.
I stopped crying that day and everyone around me started.
I could hear my family saying over and over how well I was doing. I wanted to scream you didn’t see me in the early hours but I no longer had a voice.
You have a voice though; you have a choice and never forget you have amazing help out there that wasn’t around in my day.
I’m leaving this letter, neatly folded, on your pillow while you are sleeping. It’s the best time for me to move around without being noticed. When you wake in the early hours, like I’ve seen you do, I hope my words will comfort you and give you the encouragement to reach out for the guidance waiting for you.
You are not alone.
You never were.
I’m more than happy to tell you about my own anxiety and depression. If this story helps even one person then that’s great.
When I was twenty-one I moved into my first house (just me) and one week later I went abroad with my boyfriend. While there I had a couple of episodes of what we attributed to ‘too much sun.’ I was shaking and felt sick and had to go back to the apartment on two occasions. It would be three years before these were diagnosed as panic attacks.
At twenty-four I felt faint while on the bus. I got off in Sheffield City Centre and banged on the doors of Yorkshire Bank. I knew they had closed to customers but I also knew my sister was behind that door. We caught a taxi back to my house, thinking I had a virus. That virus lasted three years. During these three years I would be diagnosed with ME and struggle to keep my job. I lived on my own and yet relied on my boyfriend, sister and parents to get me to the places I needed to be. During that time I became obsessed with gardening, the only means of escape I had from my four walls. Unfortunately I had bad neighbours at either side. At one side a man who would get drunk and smack his wife every Friday night, the other, a Schizophrenic. Three doors down another man with mental health problems. I came home one day and the kids of wife-beater had gone into my garden and ripped all the heads off my flowers. They couldn’t see the problem.
I worked at the local psychiatric unit in Admin. I therefore knew when my next door neighbour was admitted and what he’d been admitted for. The previous night I’d told Den I could smell burning. He told me I was being stupid. I snuck a read of his case notes . He had tried to set his bedroom on fire. That bedroom adjoined mine. He’d abscond from the ward and return home. I’d hear tunnelling noises near the cellar and he’d shout through the walls that he was going to kill my cats. He tried to set some of my plants on fire. When he eventually was re-homed, the water services said he had indeed been digging towards my cellar and had just missed vital pipe work.
One night the man a few doors down started his usual behaviour; playing the same song on repeat, extremely loudly, for hours and hours. This is the point I would say that I had a complete nervous breakdown. I rang my parents in tears saying I couldn’t cope any more. They took me to their house and I spent the night in a quiet bedroom, no doubt worrying them to death, but saying I couldn’t cope any more.
I was lucky. My mum got me an appointment at my G.P. surgery. It was a new G.P. One who listened and said I needed to try anti-depressants. I’d had one attempt before and the side effects had been too weird and severe. I’d only taken one. This G.P. took time to reassure me and told me that I could feel really sick for two weeks, but to think of it like flu and that in a couple of weeks I’d feel better.
The tablets made me vomit profusely for three days. They altered my pupils and made me look like I had a mad stare for two days. I made light of it but I know my family was worried. I started to feel less sick and more, well, normal. Just over a fortnight later I sat up in bed on a nice morning and asked Den if he’d take me to a garden centre. You have no idea how much of a shock this was. I’d barely left my house in three years.
I was re-diagnosed. I’d not had ME, I’d had limiting panic attacks and depression. That G.P. spent months with me on and off, showing me some behavioural therapy, such as spinning me in a chair to reassure me that although I’d get dizzy it would wear off. Without her I don’t know how I would have ended up to be honest. My body when it gets low truly makes me feel I can’t get to the end of the road. That I’m sick and exhausted. I know this because under the direction of new G.P.s I reduced and came off my medicine twice more.
The second time I became depressed and agoraphobic. I could only walk around my street. It would wear me out. Then I could only get to the post box. Then the top of the drive. When my father broke down in tears in front of me I knew I needed medication again. My father, the stocky, hard as nails, Police Sergeant. This couldn’t go on.
The third time my depression hit after I’d had a period of severe anaemia and flu. It was the worst bout I’d ever had. I’d sit in the car and wonder what would happen if I put my foot down and pranged the car in front. I didn’t want to kill myself. I just wanted to feel something. My medicines had to be increased this time, as the bout was so bad. I’d only taken a low dose on my second episode, as it was primarily anxiety and 10mg did the job. This time I needed the standard dose of 20mg. I was warned it could make me feel worse. I kept a diary of the side effects so I knew how bad they made me feel throughout this time. That diary is heartbreaking to read. Knowing how low I got and felt during that time. The increase in tablets gave me twenty-four hours where I had to tell Den I felt unsafe and to keep an eye on me. There was broken glass on the ground and I wondered how it would feel if I cut my arm. I thought about sitting on my window sill upstairs. Stupid things. Again, they were never full suicidal thoughts, just ridiculous ones that came into my mind all connected with the fact I was just so damn numb.
It passed and I improved. That was four years ago. I remain on the medication and I don’t intend to ever come off it. Maybe in time there will be improved medicines to change to. I say often, diabetics aren’t expected to stop insulin, why are depressed people taken off their tablets? If it’s situational depression and the stressor is eliminated yes, but for long term sufferers of anxiety and depression, no. I expected a fight on review with my current G.P., a no-nonsense character. He surprised me, ‘sounds sensible.’
I have low days, but I don’t attribute these to my depression. We all have low, crap days. I still have the occasional panic attack but I breathe steady and try to let it pass. I don’t hide my anxiety and depression and because of this I can tell my friends if I’m having a wobble.
If you haven’t tried medicine and I know many people are reluctant, I hope this gives you the confidence you need to ask for it. Yes you may feel at first as if you’re losing your mind even more. Afterwards you might just find you have your life back. I’m glad that my anxiety and depression are not restricting me so much these days and I can be the fab mother, partner, family member and friend I desire to be. If your health practitioners are unsympathetic, find another who is. The only thing I’ve really been left with out of all this, is I hate to feel out of control, because it reminds me too much of my illness. That’s why I rarely drink and why sometimes I escape back to my hotel room while others dance for hours. In Peterborough in March at my first book signing after party, although I still only had one drink, I did dance all night. It was the first time in years I felt I had properly let go and been myself.
I hope my story has given hope or reassurance to others. You wouldn’t know I had all this going on to look at me. In fact the thing people say to me most when I tell them I’m on anti-depressants, ‘But you’re always smiling.’ That’s right, because my anxiety and depression are currently well controlled and for that reason I’ll smile every single minute.
Recently I suffered from labyrinthitis/benign positional vertigo for a number of weeks. The feeling of permanent dizziness started to lead to increased staying at home. I was aware of going downhill, with mood and feelings of agoraphobia and panic when I tried to go out. I set myself the challenge of going a little further each day and managed to get back on my feet. My family were ecstatic as they’d seen I was wavering.
They say I’m doing well. What no-one sees is the inner struggle I go through every day to appear that way.
Fake smiling, I’m good at that.
Practice makes perfect.
My mask is in place,
The one everyone wants to see, wants to believe.
Each day passes in a blur, merging into the next.
Sleep coming quickly, exhaustion dragging me under until there is eerie silence, and I’m awake again.
Staring into the darkness, waiting,
Until another day begins and the same torturous existence starts again.
A room filled with a family that loves me, and friends that seek me out.
But I’m alone, alone with only my fears for company.
My mask is in place.
And the worried looks of those who love me, are replaced with relief.
They say I’m doing well.
But I’m not.
Unshed tears concealed behind hollow eyes, simmer and brim.
And then, when I’m alone, they’ll run free.
But until then,
My mask is in place.
A look, a glance, a cheerful smile
Hello, how are you? How’s things?
You reply in kind with words of
Fine, I’m good, how are you?
But do they listen?
Do they just see the face?
But is it real or is it fake?
Beyond the mask is what really counts
They never see my pain
The sorrow and the bleakness
Desolation swirls again
A cage to confine and constrict
Each moment is an effort
Requiring acting skill
To keep the glue that holds in place
The image I portray
Who can really see behind
This lie of life I lead
The mirror shows me what I mean
The despair of self esteem
Eroded gradually through time
Cruel words and taunts
I hear them all
Some might know the score
Some see the darkness in my eyes
A shuffle in my gait
Dressing to remain obscured
To hide my truth away
A tear slips and falls
As my ears pick up upon
The words uttered as I walk away
They say I’m doing well
They say I’m doing well at school,
Because I made the grade.
“…intelligent and… don’t understand…
Cheer up you
And when I’m off and walking home, they say it’s all my fault;
“…stay in school—and as for them? Just… turn the other cheek.”
They say I’m doing well at work,
“…a real asset to us all.
There’s just one thing… The time off thing…
You don’t look sick, don’t look ill… should be on the ball!”
A darkness has no light;
and when I’m doing well,
I’ll be on time, turn up, take part, be
Everything you like.
But if I don’t, think on it… am I truly well and good?
Sullen-silent I scream alone…
“…I wish they’d understood.”
Stress strɛs/ – a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Stress can be the most destructive of forces. Metal buckles beneath it. Walls, crack, houses crumble, people disintegrate. When it hits you, it’s almost impossible to evade, and I’ve found that it always seems to come at the moment you’re least ready for it.
In my day job I see the effects of stress on a weekly basis. I’ve watched it turn distinguished, strong men into frightened children, and experienced the way it can spin peoples’ world on an axis. In its most iniquitous form it can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a dreadful affliction where people can be triggered back to that moment of fear, experiencing it over and over again.
Though I’ve seen it first hand, it wasn’t until earlier this year that I felt the full-blown effects of stress. That’s when I began to suffer from anxiety attacks, sleep-lessness and severe reactions to triggers. Combined with depression, stress can cause you to stop functioning, and that’s exactly what happened to me. My entire life went into fight or flight mode.
The simplest things could cause my heart palpitations and breathlessness; images on television, a certain song, or even sleep. So I began to avoid sleeping, laying in bed frightened to let my eyes closed, because I knew I’d wake up to a speeding heart and a lump in my throat that made it impossible to take in air. But it was a self-defeating gesture, because my lack of sleep only served to heighten the tension, making me even less able to fight off the anxiety attacks, and ensuring that I was regularly caught in a negative thought cycle, where I came to believe that my depression and anxiety were my fault.
Somehow, I managed to get some help. I found an amazing counsellor who worked with me on two levels. Firstly to deal with the effects of the anxiety, and secondly to deal with the underlying causes. She introduced me to Mindfulness – a useful tool to help you deal with negative thoughts and being hung up on the past. Mindfulness, according to the dictionary, is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Through this I discovered there are a large number of Mindfulness Podcasts out there—many available for free—and I listen to these and use the techniques on a daily basis.
I am one of the lucky ones. In the UK, counselling is hard to come by on the NHS, and private sessions can run upwards from £40 per hour. Stress and Depression are hugely destructive to individuals and families, but unless you have available cash, it’s hard to find a way to get the therapy needed to deal with them. As I discovered, by their nature, mental illnesses are difficult to deal with on your own. Having a trained person to lead you through the path of healing is necessary, and unfortunately so many people don’t have access to this kind of help.
Considering stress is now the number one reason for long-term absence from work, it’s hard to believe why treatments are so under-funded. The sad fact is, that unless you are either rich, have a wonderfully tenacious GP or have a job where you get benefits such as medical care, you’ll think you have to deal with stress and depression on your own.
Except you’re not alone. Once I was on the road to recovery I discovered an amazing plethora of help online. From support boards, to blogs to practitioners willing to offer pro-bono advice, I discovered that help is only a Google search away. By being honest about my issues, and seeking out those who are going through something similar, I’ve found healing. I’ve also found friendship and encouragement.
One of the most important things to understand if you’re going through something similar is that you don’t have to do this on your own. Even if you haven’t yet suffered from depression or anxiety yourself, reach out to those who have. A kind word, a smile, or the results of a Google search could go a long way to making the world a better place.
They say I’m doing well. I’m now in recovery (I don’t think anybody is truly cured). But I’m more aware of myself and my triggers than ever, and if I feel myself getting low, I’m sure to let my husband or my family know. I still practice Mindfulness—it’s something I think I’ll always do—and I’m very grateful to be alive and well in this beautiful world. But I’m also aware that so many more people than ever are out there suffering, and if that’s you, I promise, you aren’t alone.
One step at a time.
That’s what he said yesterday, my dad that is, he said I was doing fine. In fact that’s what they all say lately, the other family members. Either that or something like “You’re doing really well, honey.”
I’m not. I haven’t been doing really well for a long time. It’s been so long that I can’t even remember what doing well feels like. And whose damn opinion of doing really well should I trust anyway? Certainly not my dad’s. He who must be obeyed is probably the last person in the world who should offer any kind of judgement on people’s behaviour. What would he know about crippling nonsensical emotions? He’s the one who ran off with that slut of a woman to help himself after it all happened, pretty much killing mum at the same time. She might still be hanging around, but she also might as well be dead in reality. She just sits there and stares blankly at the telly every day, occasionally moving to pour more vodka, maybe a splash of tonic if she’s feeling frivolous.
Frivolous? What a fucking word. As if anyone here’s done anything frivolous in the last three years. Even I just do the same as her now. Rock backward and forward like my life is nothing more than this chair in this repulsive little flat that I own. I hate it. I hate the flowery walls and the beige carpet, and the horrendous stench that encroaches ever more with each passing hour, souring an already vile existence. I hate the visions of torment around every corner, the never-ending taste of disgust that floods my soul each time I remember, and the constant nagging reminder of what was.
I hate me.
“Please don’t. Please don’t give in. Please don’t. I love you, Danielle. There’s so much more out there yet. Just take my hand. It’s okay, we’ll make it better. One step at a time, you and me.”
It’s all I hear every fucking day. It goes round and round like an all-consuming torture while I sit here and gaze at his photo. I just rock in the hope I can remember something other than that. Please God, let me feel something other than the unending anguish of this guilt filled hatred.
And I can smell him, why can I still smell him? He’s everywhere. And it was his fault. Why did he do it? It should have been me that went over. It was me, my choice. Why did he have to be so stupid? I told him to let go, told him to just leave and let me get on with it, but he wouldn’t listen. He just kept chanting those fucking words and telling me he loved me, just kept holding on so tight that I couldn’t get him off me and then it was too late. And he was so bright and shiny, so beautifully unaffected by everything that is horrid and despicable in this world. Nothing in his 18 year old mind worked like mine. Nothing fazed him or made him think he was unworthy. He didn’t drown himself in drugs or taint his very existence with the vapid air of depravity and indulgence, like me. He was good and kind and decent and so very handsome. He should be here with a family and babies, and two point four fucking dogs and a mortgage. Instead he’s six feet under, and his will left his death payment to me.
So I could always be safe, apparently. Secure.
I stare over at mum sitting there in her drab dressing gown that hasn’t been washed for god knows how long. That skinks too. It smells like vomit and decades of disgust, all aimed at me. Rightly so. I’m a pointless waste of human life. There was no reason for me to be here before, so there certainly isn’t now. I don’t even know what I’m doing trying to forget anymore. I should just get on with it again. This flat’s high enough. In fact it’s higher than the bridge was. Not quite such a nice view, but what does that matter? Hell won’t be very nice either, will it? Although it’s what I deserve, regardless. At least I know he’s not there. He’ll be with the angels. They’ll probably be waiting on him hand and foot, and hopefully contemplating sending him back down here so he can heal people. Or at the very least show the world what men should be like.
That’s the other thing that happens constantly. Mum saying his name as if she can smell him too. Ben, Ben, Ben. Mind you, her permanently alcohol induced fog probably means she sees all kinds of hallucinations. Thankfully for her they’re not the reality that I see every time I close my eyes. She wasn’t there to witness his blue eyes filled with love as he pushed me backwards away from him. I see them falling away from me every single moment of this godforsaken life, and no matter how much I lunge for him, I can’t grab him back to me. I can’t stop him falling. I even find myself sitting here sometimes with my hands outstretched still reaching for him. Dr Jones says that’s normal, and that I shouldn’t worry about it, that I should just keep taking the myriad of pills he delivers weekly and try to get on with my life.
“It’ll get easier, Danielle. It’s not your fault. It was an accident.”
How about, fuck you, Dr Jones? It wasn’t an accident, it was all me. I killed him. If I hadn’t tried to jump, he wouldn’t have tried to save me. This is all my fault. And mum and dad covering the trail for me, as they always did, doesn’t make it right. I’m a killer, a murderer, a monster.
“I’m not having both my children taken from me.”
That’s what she near silently screamed at my dad when we walked to the police station. Then they’d lied, and made me lie too, made me tell the men in blue uniforms that it had been Ben that jumped, that I couldn’t reach him in time. Lies, all lies.
Just like this pitiful apparent survival.
My eyes search the room for something, anything. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I never do. An answer maybe? Eventually they find it, the window. I’ll just finish it now. It’s pretty simple. I’ll just finish what I started and then this fucking hollow space inside me will disappear and I won’t have to listen to his words haunting me daily. Mum won’t even notice, and if she does she’ll probably be thankful. My weary body rouses itself at the thought and stretches its feet forward to touch the beige carpet as I push on the armrests. Five minutes is all it’ll take for me to switch off the need to bother living. That’s all. There’s nothing worth living for anyway. Nobody really wants me here. They all blame me, and they’re right too as well.
It should have been me.
The sun blinds me as I quietly open the curtains and stare into the daylight. Is it daytime? Most of the time I don’t know what day of the week it is let alone the time. Too many drugs overloading an already confused mind. That’s what dad says, as if he knows all the fucking answers.
I gaze down at some kids in the snow throwing snowballs and laughing about something which causes my lips to attempt a smile of some sort. It feels odd, as if my mouth is uncomfortable with the movement. I suppose it is after all this time, but nevertheless the merriment of the bunch of Christmas revellers is enough to make it stay there for a while as I watch.
“There’s so much more out there yet.”
That’s him again, still trying to cover me in his optimism. Even now he’s trying to show me the way. That a younger brother had the foresight and empathy to try is unbelievable really. But try he did, still does, even from the grave.
“Please don’t give in.”
He never gave into anything. He was always the one up front, leading the pack. Full of buoyancy and self-assurance with his blonde hair ruffling in the breeze and his gangly legs propelling him forward, always forward.
“We’ll make it better, Danielle. Just take my hand.”
And I wish I could. I wish he was still here so I could grab hold of it and absorb that energy from him again, that boundless enthusiasm that he seemed to own somehow. If I could just see a way through this endless maze of chaos and drudgery in my mind then maybe I’d have a chance of honouring his wishes. Perhaps there would be a way of me saying sorry somehow and moving on, or at least trying to make him proud and prove there was a reason for his stupid heroics.
“Please don’t give in. I love you.”
Is that good enough reason? That he loved me? It so should be. Love should be the reason for everything. It should wrench at your insides and tell you to be stronger, to hold on longer, to push past all the hurdles and forge a path forward. I should do that. I know I should because it’s what he would want from me. He’d be appalled by this grey velour tracksuit and dowdy appearance. He’d be forcing me to eat some food and then refusing to allow me to throw it all up again.
He’d say, “Get your arse in gear, Danny. We’ve got a world to conquer.” And he’d mean it too. He’d also probably slap me and then chase me into the bedroom to force the issue until I’d swing my hands up in the air and nod an exasperated “Okay,” in response, again.
I can still hear that from him now as I stare out into this offering of freedom, calculating how long it will take for these kids to leave, but they play on, running around and giggling at each other. So young, so full of promise and joy. There’s nothing holding them back or stifling how much they can enjoy their fun and abandonment. They’re just pure and true.
Just like him.
“Okay,” I mouth to myself, still watching as a young boy pummels a girl with endless rounds of snow. She laughs in response and ends up on the floor covered in the white fluffy stuff.
Christmas. It was his favourite time of year, he would have had me out there with those kids by now, probably dowsing me in as much of the cold stuff as he could manage just so that he could force hot chocolate on me when we got in. More calorie intake, as always.
Tea. I need a cup of tea. Maybe a cup of tea will help me make it to the next day, and then tomorrow I can think about maybe changing these clothes. Perhaps going to the shops or cleaning a bit.
“One step at a time.”
Okay, Ben. One step at a time.
Never Give Up
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
But I’m not.
I’m sinking in a sea of desperation, my life raft bobbing further and further from my reach.
The black waves splash my face,
They choke my lungs, and burn my eyes.
I’m drowning in sadness.
Inexplicable melancholy for reasons unknown.
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
But I’m not.
I put a pretty smile on it,
Sing the sweet melodic, self-sacrificing rhymes they love to hear,
And pretend that it’s all okay.
But inside I’m still drowning.
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
But I’m not.
Like a knife.
Or a cut.
Or a scrape of the knee.
A splinter to the thumb.
It hurts in the most physical sense,
But it’s all inside my head,
And I can’t make it stop!
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
But I’m not.
But I’m trying…
But I’m wanting…
But I’m fighting…
But I’m losing…
But I’m trying…
But it’s winning…
But I’m refusing to give up to the demons inside my head,
To the devil inside my eyes that pours the tears down my face.
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
But I’m not.
But I will be.
Cold water on my skin.
Gasp, breathe, cold.
My chest aches,
Burning, throbbing, aching,
One, two, three…
Don’t give up.
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be,
And I will be.
I’m floating in a sea of desperation,
Reaching for my life raft,
Wiping the black abyss from my eyes,
Coughing up the waves of my sadness.
I’ll reach dry land and pull myself free,
I’ll do it.
They say I’m doing fine,
And I should be.
And I will be.
But it’s okay not to be.
It’s okay to be sad.
It’s okay to admit it.
It’s okay to cry.
It is okay.
My alarm goes off, yet again, for the third time this morning. I have already pressed the snooze two times and I know that I have to get up. I have work today and people are counting on me, or so they say. With a deep sigh, I let my eyes adjust in the early morning dawn light. I rub at them hoping it will help me focus, but the darkness seems to push in from all sides. The silence of my apartment is all around me, so thick that it feels like a heavy weight is sitting on my chest.
Slowly, I turn and let my legs hang from the side of the bed, my feet not quite touching the floor.
I rise up and steady myself against the wall just a mere six inches away. My apartment is small and the too-big bed takes up a lot of room. I had thought about leaving it with her and getting a smaller one, but, I just couldn’t handle the idea that she would be using our bed with him. I lower my head, my chin resting against my chest as the tears begin to fall. I sit back down on the bed as the sobs fill my very being.
After several long minutes, I draw in a deep breath and several short ones hoping to settle myself. It doesn’t take much these days to get me bawling my eyes out. I guess in some ways she was my safety net. What was it she had said? “This is too much for me. You are a wonderful man, but not knowing what I will find when I come home is… just too much.” I didn’t blame her. Some days, I didn’t know what I would find in the morning when I woke up either.
I get up again and slowly drag myself into the bathroom to get a shower and get ready for the day. Some days it can take quite a while for me to get ready, so I usually start earlier than I need to. After my shower, shaving, and brushing my teeth, I walk back into the bedroom to get dressed. One of the things my doctor has suggested is that I pick out clothes the night before and force myself to accept them, to not change my selection. Today the navy blue slacks and plain white shirt fit my mood.
I walk down the short hallway to the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee. The smell of the fresh brew reminds me of days when I cherished my first cup. Now, it is just one more chore that I have to muddle through. My doctor told me that doing these types of small chores consistently would help me return to my old self. While I wait for the coffee I check my cell phone. No texts and the handful of emails are of the upcoming weekend sales. No party or night out invites for me. Nothing for me to do or read here. Just nothing.
I sit down heavily in one of the two chairs at the small café-sized table. Some days I just can’t see the future at all, like the winter dawn barely breaking outside of my windows. It all seems very dark. I can feel myself slipping back and closing my eyes, try to reach for the ledge. I remember his “tricks” to reach for the next rung on the ladder. Not to look up at the top – just to look at the next one. Just one. Then one more. But with my eyes still closed I try to remember happier days gone by. I know they were there because she and I had been happy once upon a time. I can remember every detail of her. The way she smiled so easily and laughed all the time. The way the sun lightened her long brown hair and made her hazel eyes sparkle. I swipe at the tear as it begins to slip down my cheek. Damn! It is going to be one of those days.
I focus on the scent of the fresh coffee and manage to open my eyes. Standing up I lift my travel coffee mug and place the lid tightly on. Turning to leave the kitchen I pick up my backpack, which contains some tissues, a few pens and pencils, and a journal. My doctor says every day I am supposed to write down something positive and then share it during our sessions. Some days the best I can say is that my coffee tasted good. I know it’s not much, but it is something.
He says finding something positive every day means that I am doing well. I guess a good cup of coffee is better than nothing. And that also means that I got out of bed today, that I was able to get dressed, get through my morning routine, able to take a breath and keep breathing.
Like football players who smack the champion sign on the way out onto the field, I have my own sign. ‘They say I am doing well’ it says, with butterflies and flowers all around it. Do I look like a flowers and butterflies kind of guy? No, I don’t think so. But as I pass by the sign, I run my fingers across the words, trying to pull them into my soul, into my heart, and most importantly into my mind. Maybe that will help. Today, I need all the help I can get.
As the door closes behind me, I say it over and over in my mind – they say I am doing well. With a deep sigh, I put one foot in front of the other and then another and another. Maybe they are right. Maybe I am doing well. I hope they are right.
“You will love it.”
“There is no better feeling in the world.”
“They complete you.”
It was all lies.
At least, that’s how it felt at the time.
No one told me the truth. No one ever said becoming a mother would shake me, break me, and turn me into a withered fraction of the person I used to be.
Sure, I had the emotional moment and feeling of absolute joy when my son was placed in my arms for the very first time. And yes, my chest constricted with an overwhelming sense of pride when he first opened his blue eyes and looked up at me, melting my heart.
That feeling didn’t last long.
Within a week of my son’s birth, everything had changed.
Sitting on a bench facing the small lake, the dark water reflecting the changing autumn leaves of nearby trees, my thoughts drifted back to the time when being a mother became too much, when I wished it would all just go away.
That he would just go away.
Harvey, my son, had been a little angel. “Our very own gift from God,” Dylan, my husband, would say. Of course he would. He didn’t get to see the devil-child like I did.
As soon as Dylan returned to work at the end of his paternity leave and it became just Harvey and me, things spiralled downhill quickly.
Everything started changing.
I started changing.
It was almost like he was testing the strength of my character—and found me lacking. From the moment the front door clicked closed behind Dylan in the mornings, after he had showered his precious son with kisses, Harvey became a demanding monster. It didn’t matter what I tried or how much of my own hair I tried pulling out, Harvey would not settle.
He would cry non-stop for hours, and nothing would pacify him. I’d feed, change, and cuddle him, and I’d rock him in my arms until they ached, but his wailing would not stop.
In the early days of post-natal checks, the midwife—and then various other health-care workers—would tell me everything was fine. It would take me a while to learn what my son’s different cries were and I should not fret about things.
That was easier said than done.
The more Harvey cried, the more desperate I became.
First, my feelings were of guilt; why couldn’t I do the simple thing of pacifying my son? We soon found ourselves in a vicious circle of baby crying—mum fretting—baby continuing to cry—mum becoming desperate for some peace.
Next came hopelessness.
I began to feel lost, worthless, not deserving of anything or anyone in my life. I had been given, supposedly, the greatest gift on earth, but I didn’t appreciate him. I couldn’t.
Within days, I found myself withdrawing from my son, and from life. I couldn’t cope. Suddenly, being a wife and mother was too much.
I wasn’t connecting with my son. The bright spark of pride I’d felt straight after his birth, had faded and died. I began despising him, wishing he were anywhere but with me. My relationship with my husband was suffering, too. I could see the concern in his eyes when he came home from work in the evenings and asked how my day had been, but I couldn’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to care.
While I stayed in bed, trying to bury myself in the comfort of my blankets, I would leave Harvey in his bassinet crying for hours until he would eventually drop off to sleep. I couldn’t find the motivation to get washed or dressed. I stopped eating properly and would ignored phone calls and visitors.
I simply withdrew from living.
Eventually, Dylan and our health visitor realised that something was wrong, that I wasn’t just suffering with mild baby blues.
“Georgie,” Dylan said to me one morning, sitting beside me on the edge of the bed as he cuddled a sleeping Harvey. “Sweetheart, we can’t carry on like this. Harvey needs his mum.”
His words were like a knife to my chest. He was right; Harvey did need me, but I didn’t know how to be a mum. I was confused, scared, tired, and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt that I couldn’t just get on with motherhood like every other new mum did.
My throat clogged up with a football-sized ball of guilt, shame, and emotion, and tears stung my closed eyes. But I would not cry. I refused to. I could not admit to Dylan how low I was feeling, how utterly useless I was. I was his wife, the mother of his child. I was supposed to be strong, caring, and nurturing his child whilst he was off providing for us financially.
Dylan’s gentle hand swept greasy hair away from my face, and I felt his eyes on me.
I will not cry. I will not cry.
I kept repeating it to myself over and over, willing myself back into the darkness that was slowly engulfing me.
“You have to snap out of this, babe. Harvey needs you… I need you.”
Despite my best efforts, a whimper that resembled a squeak abraded my throat, and the tears I had been trying so hard to repress finally started falling. I screwed my eyes together tight and prayed no more would fall. But it was no use. The dam had breached, and before I knew it, I was sobbing, burying my face into the pillow, unable to control my shaking body.
“Let me help you. We need to get you help so you can feel like you again. I need my wife, and Harvey needs his mum. We can’t lose you, Georgie.”
Dylan’s emotion-filled voice and words took me by surprise. What did he mean by ‘lose me’? I wasn’t going anywhere, well, other than the black hole I was steadily falling into.
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and wiggled under the crumple of blankets until I was facing Dylan. For the first time in several weeks, I actually took note of my husband. His usual bright-blue eyes were dull and haunted, dark circles swirled underneath, and a concerned frown drew in his brows.
My husband was seriously worried. About me?
As tears continued to spill from my eyes, Dylan reached forward to wipe them away.
“I’ve been speaking to Evelyn, and she thinks you have Postnatal Depression.” I shuddered again, not wanting to acknowledge what we both knew was the truth. “I’ve made you an appointment with the doctor. It’s time we got you the support you need to help you get back to your old self.”
Dylan offered a small, weary smile and continued stroking my hair with one hand while cuddling our son to his chest with the other.
The realisation of the seriousness of my condition hit me full on. I wasn’t just feeling down or tired; I was depressed.
I turned my head, not able to look at my husband or son, as a new emotion swept through me… shame.
“Hey.” Dylan quickly slipped his gentle hand beneath my cheek, encouraging me to look at him again. “Don’t hide from me. You have nothing to be ashamed of, okay? Lots of new mothers suffer with Postnatal Depression.”
“I’m so sorry,” I cried, bringing my hand to my mouth, trying to control my hysterics. “I’m so, so sorry, Dylan.”
With his free arm, Dylan pulled my against his chest, holding his family close.
“Shh, you have nothing to be sorry for. You hear me? Nothing.”
I cried and snuggled into Dylan’s white cotton shirt for what felt like hours until Harvey started wriggling and getting grumpy.
“Why don’t you go shower while I feed this little monster, then we’ll go talk to the doctor.” Dylan planted a kiss to my forehead and began to ease away. Not wanting him to go, I quickly grabbed handfuls of his shirt and buried my face into his chest.
“I love you,” I whispered.
I felt his smile against my skin as he kissed me again.
“And I love you, too… We’ll get through this, baby. I promise we will.”
After a chat with our family doctor, he confirmed that I was experiencing Postnatal Depression. We spoke about various treatment options and support that would help me cope, and eventually decided against antidepressants, opting for a more therapeutic approach through counselling and support groups.
When we returned home from the doctors, together, Dylan and I fed and changed Harvey and settled him down for a nap, then we sat and searched the Internet for information and advice. The Mind website was a fantastic resource that helped me further understand my condition and put me in contact with a local support group.
Within days, I’d attended a one-to-one counselling session with a lovely lady who didn’t judge and encouraged me to open up. I also had further plans to join a local group of other women who were also struggling following the birth of a child. I was still buried in a black hole, but for the first time in weeks, I felt hopeful.
Talking to people who understood and could relate to how I was feeling was my greatest motivation. I finally accepted that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a freak of nature, or a bad mother, and my fears, anxieties, and emotions were all normal.
My thoughts came back to the present by the sound of a happy child shouting behind me.
Slowly, I pulled my gaze from the darkness of the lake and turned in my seat. The sight that greeted me made my chest ache and spread a wide smile across my face. It was the most beautiful sight in the world.
Harvey, who was now walking, was heading toward me on his unsteady, chubby legs, a bright smile lighting up his face.
“Mumma, Mumma,” he babbled over and over, making me laugh.
“Hey, baby boy,” I cooed, scooping him into my arms. “Did Daddy take you to the swings?”
“Swin, swin, swin” he chanted over and over, excited to have mastered—in his baby way—another new word.
I felt Dylan step up behind me and wrap his arms around my waist, settling his hands over my stomach.
The warmth of his breath fluttering across the sensitive skin of my neck, and the husky tones of his voice, sent my body into overdrive.
“Hello to you, too, handsome.”
“How is my family doing?” He rubbed gentle circles over the tiny swell of my belly.
“We’re all doing great.” I beamed, turning in Dylan’s arms and offering him my lips that he was only too willing to smother with his own.
We stood together for several minutes, kissing each other and cuddling our son, until Harvey became restless and wanted to get down.
“I guess it’s time to go home, then,” Dylan said, taking Harvey from my arms and securing him in his stroller.
As we walked back through the park toward our car, I couldn’t be more thankful for my life. I had a wonderful son, a fantastic husband, an amazing support group surrounding me, and another, unexpected, child on the way.
Things weren’t always perfect; I still had the occasional struggle, and I couldn’t deny being a little afraid of becoming a mother again. But, as they say, I was doing well and getting better and more confident every day.
With my family and friends beside me, I knew everything would be okay.
“You will love it.”
“There is no better feeling in the world.”
“They complete you.”
It was all the truth, every last word.
I’m seven years old… and I’m sitting on the living room floor in my new outfit, the warmth from the electric fan heater gently blow-drying my freshly washed hair. Twisting my fingers in the blue, rose-smattered material that covers my crossed legs, I fidget and fuss, biting down on my tongue to keep from asking, yet again, where we are going, concentrating really hard on how good I feel in my dress.
Sometimes we go to the jumble sale to get new clothes, but Mummy often fixes my old ones with needle and thread. Sometimes she pulls out her big machine with the wheel on it and magics bits of material into something completely new for me to wear. However, this beautiful dress that I can’t stop touching, came from a shop. I haven’t tried it yet but I just know that when I stand up, in a few minutes time, and I start to spin, it is going to lift and swirl and twirl around me, and I can barely contain myself.
Mummy is so good at drawing and painting too. She’s always making things: she’s really very clever. My favourite times are when she gets all the glitter and the papers and glue out on the big table. We make and we draw, we sing and we laugh.
Those are the very best times…
I look back up at Mummy’s face as she brushes my hair… Her eyes are like Bambi’s: big, brown and beautiful and framed by thick, heavy lashes.
Bambi was a very sad film.
Mummy’s eyes sometimes look sad, but today, they are sparkling and that gives me a warm feeling right to the tip of my toes.
I’m eleven years old… and Dad picked us up from school again yesterday. I instinctively knew that Mum must have gone back in. She has been in and out of that big hospital for what feels like a very long time now. Dad says they keep her there to help her to find her smile again. Sometimes we visit her, and although her eyes still seem really sad, I think she is happy to see us. We go for walks or sit in her bedroom and we get to cuddle with her. I don’t like it when she cries.
Last night, though, after we got back from school, we got bundled into the car.
We have come to live at Granddad’s house for a while.
And we get to miss school.
As I sit here, the smell of the freshly washed bedding invades my senses making it difficult for me to concentrate on what I want to say to Dad. He looks at me with tired eyes, and I find it uncomfortable to look back at him. Instead, I take in the disarray at my feet: the stuffed-full-in-a-hurry-last-night suitcase that lies open with unfamiliar items of ladies clothing strewn across the lid – I know they’re not Mum’s things. She’s not coming to live here with us – and the black bin-liners that are almost bursting with my own and my brother’s belongings.
The door to the en suite in Granddad’s bedroom sits ajar, and instead of asking the question that has been sitting on my tongue for the last half an hour, I imagine the creatures that might live behind it…
Tiny winged beasts that crawl up the spouts of the taps at dawn…
Fungus the Bogeyman who visits while we sleep, filling the bath with slime…
I trace the delicate pattern on the duvet cover with my finger, following each swirl on its journey to meet the next one.
The sound of my cousins’ laughter floats up the stairwell distracting me again as I wonder what it is I am missing out on this time, and I snap my attention back to my father. The lines on his face seem to have doubled today, and I take a deep breath to try to still my racing pulse.
“Dad, what is divorce?”
I’m fifteen years old… and I have a bad feeling about this weekend before it even starts. I sit nervously, dreading the imminent coach journey that I’m now so familiar with. Every other weekend, we visit her in the home where we laughed as little children, and every time, I feel like this. Nauseous.
If I never see another one of their enormous, white coaches again it will be too soon.
Dad helps us with our bags, waving and giving us the usual spiel about being careful and reminding us to ring him when we get to Mum’s. I sigh, understanding that there is something worrying him. I just know this isn’t going to end well.
When we eventually arrive. My stomach lurches, and I know that my instincts were correct.
A trip to Chester Zoo has been planned, which is great really. It means we’ll be out of the house with things to talk about instead of uncomfortable, painful silence. However, I go to bed with a knot in my stomach, leaving Mum in the kitchen stressing over picnic food that she planned way too far in advance. I guess you might ask why I haven’t helped her….
It’s not worth it.
I wouldn’t do it the way she wanted, which would make things worse, and her fussing and over-checking would antagonise me. We’d end up arguing.
Be more patient, you say. Put yourself in her shoes.
Well I can’t…
The journey to the zoo is a difficult one. I try to keep Mum talking so that the silence doesn’t become unbearable. She is hard work, and I soon give up. James doesn’t really ‘get’ what’s going on, but I have grown in my knowledge and understanding as I have gotten older.
He finds not being with her incredibly difficult. There have been times where Dad has had to physically drag him, kicking and screaming away from Mum. It’s just heartbreaking. Seeing him like that, seeing Mum destroyed, seeing Dad trying to keep everything together, it breaks me. And for this reason, I dread coming. I dread coming because I just don’t know what I’m going to be faced with. I don’t know how many egg shells I’m going to have to step over.
She’s not always like this. Sometimes she seems her old self, but I just don’t know when those days will be.
Mum starts to laugh.
“One of the things you need to look out for is when she starts to laugh inappropriately. This is a good sign that she is not well.” My dad’s words reverberate in the back of my mind, and I push them to the side giving Mum the benefit of the doubt.
“What are you laughing at?”
She snaps her head around to try to look at me. “Nothing.”
I challenge her, mainly because I need to know what I am dealing with here.
“What do you mean nothing? Something must be funny.” I’m glad she can’t see my face, because I don’t think it would help matters.
“I can laugh if I want to can’t I? Don’t have to be laughing at anything funny.” She is unreasonably angry with my comments.
I stare out of the window and brace myself for a difficult day.
I’m seventeen years old… and she’s hunched and rigid on the sofa again, a shell of the strong, beautiful woman I clung to as a young child. I’m helpless, irritated and out of my depth. I’ve got revision to do for school, but I can’t bear to leave her alone. Not like this.
They tell her that horrible things will happen to her. She won’t go swimming because of them, and she won’t ride a train. Once, they told her my auntie was a cannibal. A cannibal! She even locked herself in the house for days because of them, after they told her there was a war going on outside her front door.
I can’t even begin to understand that.
It gets frustrating and I shout at her to ignore them, to block them out. I tell her not to be so ridiculous, not to be so weak. I tell her there’s no such thing as ‘voices’.
But I know the fear is real for her.
I know because I can see it in her eyes.
With a sigh, I sit down next to her and take her hand. I have no words for her, or for myself. I don’t know what’s expected of me. This is adult stuff. Even if she cried, it would more sufferable than this.
I want to climb inside her head, to shut off the sad switch.
“Please smile.” I search her eyes for a glimmer of the bright, full-of-life mother from my early years, but I don’t see even a flicker of light, and I know what’s coming next.
She holds my gaze with her dull, lifeless stare. “I can’t, Beth.”
I give her a sideways glance before I curl my feet up, gently pulling her body towards me, and I try to embrace her wooden frame.
If I hold her, if I keep her close to me, then maybe my love for her will permeate her being and be enough to fight the demon that is wrapped around her soul.
They say I’m doing well, but at the moment, I’m not so sure.
I want my mum back.
Acute schizophrenia, that’s me… and I’m her mum.
It has been a tremendous long haul to reach this point now and to be able to say, not that I’ve completely beaten it, but that I am living a very purposeful life in spite of it.
[_Mornings are heavy and tiring due to medication, which seems to do its job. _]
Instead of sleeplessness and a clinging onto my bed in fear and trepidation, I now sleep well and get up early, dressed in clothes that are picked and laid out the night before in an attempt to achieve some sort of routine, and a fashion statement at sixty-three years young!
[_It helps me a great deal to get out in the air in the mornings, walking along a local country lane, talking to the horses and ducks along the way. _]
[_Riding on the local bus takes me to various shops and to friends at the nearby book and coffee shop. I love to browse the charity shops and it gives me a real lift when I find a bargain. _]
[_The voices are still there, still horrendous, and I find it hard to concentrate. When I talk back to them, tell them to leave me alone, they reply viciously and change my thoughts. It’s a fight every day still, I admit, but thankfully I get a lot of support. _]
[_My husband, and my official carer, does such a lot for me. I go to the Mind drop in on a Saturday afternoon and we are ‘like-minded’ there, accepting and understanding of one another, which helps. On Fridays, I go to Kim: a very helpful group where I have lots of friends and volunteer workers. _]
I feel the love of my family around me and can’t always believe that I’ve been given so much from them. They certainly keep me going!
[_I have strong Christian beliefs that give me peace and hope, experiencing the love of God and his goodness day by day. I gain much support and strength through His word that is preached each week at church. We all have good fellowship there, and it is a place where I feel at home and blessed. _]
[_I do quite a lot of art and craft for various things and people, especially church, and I even put myself through university, achieved a hard earned art degree. _]
[_I exercise twice weekly at the local gym: it sharpens my mind and gets me motivated. Also, I write to a little boy in Senegal who lives in a straw hut and eats a lot of bananas! _]
[_All these things that have come my way have helped me, no end, onto a better road. _]
[_I’m not afraid of the future now. _]
Even though anxiety can rear its ugly head very suddenly for ridiculous reasons and I can still fall into low feelings, things are usually worked out with different sorts of happenings that come my way.
Though I have been scarred forever on the horrendous journey of mental illness, which only the insides of can be seen by God, I trust each day that all is well, that all will be well.
They say I’m doing well, and I am. I’m doing ok.
They say I’m doing well, but I guess it depends on how you define the word well. I’m healthy; I have a job, a roof over my head, two beautiful little girls, a very supportive partner, a big loving family and a small group of awesome friends. In my eyes, that makes me richer than many people.
To the outside world, my life may be viewed as a happy one and for the most part, it is. However, the life I portray on social media are the parts I want people to see, therefore, yes; I’m socially well.
What most don’t realise, and the part I rarely share is the hours it cost me in MIND time to get to this point in my life. The struggles, the low points, the lonely, late night cries, the endless loss of sleep, the battles with my own thoughts at two, three and four in a morning.
In August 2014, I split from my husband after eight years of marriage, ending a relationship of thirteen years. At thirty-three years old, I never thought I would find myself in that position. I was starting my life over and I have never been as scared of anything in my life. Not even childbirth. I was suddenly solely responsible for, not only looking after myself but my two little girls – the two most precious things in my life. It turns out; they probably ended up looking after me the most with their innocent little minds, big hearts and simple outlooks on life. Hell, I envied them. I’m still shocked at how isolating it feels when I see their empty beds staring back at me when they are staying at their dad’s. That’s when the sun goes down and the nightmares creep in.
Just because a person chooses to remain private, doesn’t spout all their problems publicly, or struggles to openly discuss them, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer. To the contrary, the quiet ones suffer, too. Being trapped in your own thoughts, not being able to make sense of them enough to talk about them, to even your closest friends, is a scary place to be. Add to that the fear of sounding stupid, the fear of admitting your failings, the fear of how society will judge you and you may find that you understand more why so many people suffer in silence. Sometimes, it’s the safest way to be.
Paranoia and insecurity are a bitch…
Who is going to want me with two kids?
Who is going to want me looking like this?
Who else is going to love my baby born, stretch marks?
Are they looking at me?
Are they whispering about me?
Why didn’t they invite me?
Why didn’t they invite my children?
What damage have I done to my girls?
God, I feel so guilty. How will I provide them with all the love and support they’re missing out on not being in a two parent family?
Did my daughter get into trouble at school because I left her dad? Is she lashing out because of me?
Why don’t my friends like my photos?
Are they judging me now, too?
Why aren’t family supporting my decisions?
Surely they understand?
These are just a few of the questions that my wonderful mind spends hours agonising over.
Insert identity crisis – I’d spent years being Fran the wife, Fran the daughter-in-law,
Fran the mum, but who the hell was Fran? I felt like I had to rediscover myself all over again.
Insert judgement days – I realised no matter what you do, what new things you try, whatever selfie you post, there’s always someone sat there waiting to pounce, to pull you to pieces and criticise you. They have no clue why you’re doing what you’re doing. They have no idea how many hours you spent deliberating over your every step.
Insert the mistakes – I am only human, I will make mistakes, everyone does. I made a ton of them. It’s just a shame others couldn’t admit their mistakes, too. It’s funny how many perfect people there were in my life and it’s even funnier how many friends you truly have (insert sarcasm). I learnt the hard way whom are the good eggs, but the good eggs I have, are keepers for life.
When the sun begins to rise in the morning, there’s a certain calm that ripples through the mind like an ocean gently washing over the shore, taking with it all the silly, unnecessary worry. And as you drag your weary, tired body from the sheets, you begin to wonder what it is about the night that causes such irrationality. You start to be able to rationalise the thoughts in your head that little bit easier, clearer.
You realise it’s not all doom and gloom because despite the disappointment of those you thought you could trust, you know there’s that one friend. That one friend you can rely on at all hours of the day to be on the other end of the phone, regardless of her plans. She picks you up and slaps you down as and when required. That one friend who understands without even having to explain, but that one friend you know you can’t rely on forever. Also, whether realised or not, that one random text asking how you are means the world. Just the thought that someone took a minute out of their day to think about you, means more than they will probably ever know.
On the outside I probably seemed like I was taking it all in my stride, on the inside, I was dying a slow death. My thoughts were killing me day by day, pinning me down and keeping me a prisoner in my own mind. It’s cliché but it’s true – when you’re down on your arse, the only way is up. When you’re staring back at the person in the mirror and you don’t even recognise yourself anymore and what you’ve become, then it’s time to have a serious word with the bastards in your head. It’s time to fight. It’s time to take a leaf out of your kid’s book and focus on the positives. It’s time to trust in a few people and let them in. Slowly, but surely, I started to realise…
I have a job.
I have a home.
I have two beautiful little girls.
I have a small group of awesome friends.
I have a big loving family.
With pain comes anger and for a while back there, that’s exactly how I felt; angry and disappointed. It was my decision to leave my marriage. No one said it would be easy, a few said it would be tough but never did I once imagine just how hard it would be. Nothing prepared me for the times I faced.
You find a way to let go of the anger.
You find a way to let go of the hurt.
You find a way to let go of the pain.
You let it go.
You start to live again.
The whole process has taught my MIND many things but one of the most specific is, I’ve had to learn to live without the materialistic things in life. That’s not to say I couldn’t before divorce, it’s just I now have an appreciation for the smaller, understated things – walks in the park, snuggles on the sofa, watching a film with my kids, baking on a Sunday, relaxing in a hot bath, just sitting alone in a quiet room listening to the sound of my calm breath.
I now have a new partner, who accepts my baby stretch marks, who encourages me to be me and not to concern myself with the opinions of others, but most of all, loves my girls just as much as he loves me. There truly are great people out there; you just need to trust and believe in yourself and hope that good things will follow.
2016 – I am grateful to all those who stood by me. I appreciate the things I do have in my life. I have more of an understanding to those who suffer pain, but most importantly, I feel stronger in mind, I am doing well.
Dedicated to the memory of my friend
Deborah Elwood, died 2003, aged 24.
A beautiful mind.
I hear it all the time. I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing it. “You’re doing so well, Glenn.” It always feels like I’m around 9 years of age and having my cheeks painfully pulled or my hair annoyingly ruffled by an ancient aunt I haven’t seen for a very long time, and who smells of mothballs.
Maybe ‘sick to the back teeth’ is very unappreciative of me, and a tad on the harsh side. I mean, after all they only care, don’t they? If they didn’t care they wouldn’t say it, would they? Or more to the point, if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t even give me a second thought to be able to make the assessment in the first place.
The thing is I’m not unappreciative, not in the slightest. I’m scared. In fact scrap that. I’m more than that even. I’m utterly petrified, is what I am. I couldn’t be more fearful if I was jumping out of a plane into shark infested waters with T-bone steaks strapped to me. In fact that’s what it feels like when they say it, like I’m free falling from an aircraft towards impending doom. The responsibility of doing well cripples me. I wish I was superman, and then maybe I could carry the compliment on my shoulders as if it were as light as a feather instead of as heavy as a tower block. I’m not superman, though, and I can’t carry it with ease. You see, I was never meant to do this well. How could I have been? My mum was 15 when she fell pregnant. I’m from the wrong sides of the tracks. I have dyslexia. I was bullied at school. All things considered I’m not meant to be the head of an 11-strong teaching team. Surely not?
Middle Management isn’t meant to be my middle name. At least this is what I grew up thinking anyway. Sitting at the back of set 4 English, in my half-mast trousers and with my in-desperate-need-of-a-wash mullet hairdo, I could never have imagined I would reach these dizzy heights. And boy, do I feel dizzy, like all of the time. It’s the panic that does it. The absolute 100% prime beef fear that someone will find me out and kick me back down the ranks to where I belong, to languish in the gutter and have people step over me as they climb to the top. I imagine it will happen one day. The day of doom is inevitable. Everyone gets found out in the end, don’t you watch the soaps? “Aren’t you doing well,” they’ll say. Then there will be the deathly silent pause, where they turn what they have said over in their head. The will latch on, the dots will join. They will gasp in recognition and fly out a finger at me as if readying to shoot me with it. “How did that happen? How could it happen? There’s been a mistake,” they will add, their eyes will narrow in accusation. “You’ve stepped out of rank, boy. Get back to the bottom level this instance,” they will demand.
What would I tell my mum, my sisters and my friends? All those people who have watched me claw my way up to the middle of the management ladder, how disappointed they would be to watch me lose my hold, and see my fingertips slip. Would they be there to break my fall, or would they laugh and say it was about time I was brought down a peg or two?
The thing is my success is good for my bank balance but it’s not good for my mental health. I wake up in cold sweats, forgetting parts of the journey; the sixteen year old who left school with four GCSE’s all grade F. Was there a journey? Did I actually take some alternative qualifications? Did I take my Math’s and English GCSE in sixth form the year before I went to university, like I have said I did on every application I’ve filled out since? Or did I lie? Is it possible to go from F’s to B’s in such a short space of time? What if I lied? Will I be found out? I’ll be ruined.
My mind races and it leaves my sweaty, clammy body behind. I try to catch it but it’s not easy, it runs away like a bolting horse with hoofs pounding the ground. Then I realise. I’m no fraud. I give myself a pep talk. “You’re doing well,” I tell myself. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. You’ve beaten all the odds, fair and square, not dodged and tricked them. I pat myself on the back. I give myself a little clap. I bow before myself in my full length mirror on the hall wall. Then I vow that the next time they say I’m doing well, I’ll reply with a nod, a smile and a, “Thank you.” I definitely won’t say “I know,” though, how rude and arrogant would that be?
“That bloody woman has done it again,” Ruby spat out as she dug deep in the coffee jar with her spoon. She lifted out a heaped spoonful and threw the coffee granules and the spoon into her giant sized mug. “Why does she have to look at me like I’m an alien from another world? Yesterday, I asked a simple question, I was clear and used simple words, but she said I don’t understand, can you say that again. I swear one day I’ll pour my coffee all over her head.” Rachel had poured hot water into her mug from the urn in the corner of the tiny kitchen. Turning, she threw the metal spoon into the metal sink from four feet away. The loud clatter as it landed made Hailey jump. Hailey could see both sides of the issue. It didn’t bother her, that Verity wanted clarification on some things that were asked of her. Hailey happily repeated anything that Verity wanted to hear again. For an intelligent, accomplished woman, Hailey wasn’t quite sure why Verity stared blankly at Ruby but she put it down to her need to get things correct first time. Hailey could also understand Ruby’s frustration, she was a busy person and didn’t have time for repeating any instructions.
“Hailey, I think it’s time to speak to the boss again about Verity, he needs to know about her incompetence, I just can’t cope with it anymore.” Ruby took a hasty sip of her coffee and bit her tongue, this was immediately followed by a string of expletives that would make a sailor proud.
“Everyone has their individual issues, she hasn’t actually done anything wrong and she’s excellent at her job. You need to relax a bit and take it in your stride.”
Yesterday was a stressful day for Verity, she was at her most confused. After dressing for work, she stood in the hallway and looked at her husband, Stuart. She couldn’t remember his name, so she called him darling as she kissed him goodbye, wishing him a good day. On the way to work, getting on the bus, she couldn’t remember the name of the bus stop she needed to get off at and it took a long time to ask the driver for the correct destination. The tutting and huffing from the passengers behind her in the queue didn’t help her concentration to remember the stop’s name. Sitting at her desk the next day, Verity shrunk back in her seat when she saw Ruby coming towards her. She knew what was going to happen next.
Surreptitiously, Ruby sidled up to Verity and cleared her throat. “Arnold wants to see you, now Verity.” Ruby said loud enough or the whole floor to hear.
Allowing the words to sink in, Verity pushed away from her desk and collected her handbag. The two dozen other office workers were all staring in her direction. She shrank a little into her clothes and reached the door. She blinked a couple of times and turned back to Ruby. She had already forgotten which floor she had to go to but daren’t ask Ruby again. She pressed the metal button next to the door to release the lock, trying to remember. Instinctively she climbed the stairs to the top floor and remembered where she needed to go. Verity contemplated what she would say to the boss. Her anger was building at being sent to a modern day headmaster’s office by the classroom bully. Verity was fully aware that she was forgetful, she tried memory games to improve her capabilities. She wrote as much down as possible, she just forgot to look at the piece of paper. Often, Verity wouldn’t remember that there was a note to refer to.
Yawning and holding onto the rail, it was at the fourth-floor level that she’d wished she’d taken the lift. Her desk was on the second floor and Verity had already tripped twice. She swore that the steps were getting smaller as she climbed the floors.
Into the boss’ office Verity walked while knocking on the door, Arnold was sitting at his desk, which had reams and reams of paper stacked in neat piles. His warm smile eased her anger and she took a seat at the conference room table he invited her to sit at. There was a row of pens lined up in front of her and she neatened them while she waited for him to join her.
Arnold was holding a single sheet of paper and placed it flat on the table as he sat. “Will you pass me the black pen?”
Mute, Verity stared at the set of pens and struggled to work out which one of them were black so she picked up all four and handed them to Arnold.
“Doing better,” he said, “thank you.” Arnold took the pens and smiled. “You asked me when I hired you to let you go when things were becoming noticeable. I’ve had three separate complaints from Ruby, she thinks you’re a pain in the arse and don’t listen, but I know differently.”
Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been so lenient, but she was different. He was going to look after her. He pushed the piece of paper over to her side of the table and turned it over. “I am going to make you redundant, that way you will have a financial package to fall back on while you’re looking for your next role.”
It wasn’t Verity’s usual reaction to these situations but she burst into tears. She’d been working for Arnold’s company for six years, whereas Ruby had only worked there for six months. “I’m grateful Uncle Arnold, I know I’m getting worse and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Now, I wish I could offer you home working but it would mean I would have to offer it to all the staff and that’s something that financially the company couldn’t afford to do. When is your next assessment?”
“Going back to the hospital next week, I don’t expect that it will be good news, but at least they’re taking me seriously. They think I’m doing well, but I’m not so sure.”
“Why would you say that? You’re doing so much better, we’ll just have to find another way for you to adapt. It’s not often you hear about a woman in her thirties suffering from dementia.”
“Every day is a struggle,” she looked around the room, itching to leave. “I’d better be going, Stuart will start to worry if I’m home late.”
“Love, I think you’ll be ok for a while, it’s only 10am. Go on home, spend the day watching movies and eating junk food. You enjoyed the lemon tart you had last week at our place.”
“Lemon tart, really? Did I?” Verity allowed Arnold to escort her from his office, holding her elbow as they entered the lift. He was going to take her back to her desk and drive her home. The last thing he wanted was for her to get lost again.
They say I’m doing well.
As long as the numbers on the scales keep going up and the smile on my face is convincing enough, “doing well” is what they see.
They can fill me with their chemicals and pump me out into the world with my jaw-aching from the strain of holding that smile in place, and they never need to know about the demon that roars to life in my mind each and every time I open my eyes to a new day. They don’t need to know that where I once saw the world in a myriad of bright, enticing colours that sung to my soul like the most beautiful music, now all I see are increasingly bleak shades of grey. The once vibrant gold of a sunflower, stretching itself up and up towards its namesake, now just pales into yet another dull, lifeless shade.
The sun is blazing in the sky. I can feel its heat against my skin, yet somehow, I still shiver with a cold that seems to run bone deep, as though I’ll never be warm again. The light dusting of hair that covers my pale skin is meant to be one of my body’s new defences against the cold, so why is it that no matter how many layers I wear, how much time I spend soaking up the heat wave they say is creating unprecedented temperatures, even for August, I still can’t shake the ice that seems to have lodged itself deep inside me?
The park is busy, the way it always is when the sunshine drags the pasty skinned inhabitants of the town outside for some much needed Vitamin D. There are children squealing with happiness as they run through the fountain jets that spurt cool water into the air. A dog barks with pure joy as it leaps to catch a Frisbee thrown for it by its smiling master. Footballs fly, ice creams melt, people laugh, and the world continues to turn. People are happy, people are sad, people are angry, confused or excited. Everywhere I look, I’m surrounded by a myriad of emotions, yet I can’t relate to a single one of them.
I can’t feel anything.
If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not even sure that I want to. Feeling is a little too much like caring, and no good can come from either. So, I sit on a bench, instinct bringing my knees up to my chest in an attempt to make myself as small as I can possibly be. I’m there, I’m present at the heart of a whole park full of humanity at its most… human, yet I’m not a part of any of it. Not really.
With each scene of serene happiness that passes before me – every perfect couple who walk by holding hands, every family with gorgeous, cherubic children, every group of teenagers playing football or giggling while watching them – more fragments of the ice inside me slither their way into my stomach, cutting at it like knives. I embrace the pain they cause. At least it proves that I’m still alive – just the way that the gnawing hunger I crave keeps me focused on reality. I control that pain. I choose when to force it to cut deeper and when to give in to it. With every pained yawn my stomach lets off and every stabbing pain that shoots through my entire mid-section, I take back another sliver of control.
Control is good. Control is comforting, predictable, reliable. And it all flies out of the window the moment I see him. My eyes are drawn to him the moment he sets foot in the park, like they’re a compass needle and he is magnetic north. He might as well be. He is different to everybody else in that park. They all fade into the greyscale monochrome my world seems to have descended into. But he stands out like the sun shining in the middle of the darkest night. He seems to be lit up from behind, his golden hair almost glowing as his speculative gaze scans across the park, looking for something. I desperately want that something to be me, yet the thought that it might be terrifies me more than I can begin to understand.
I curl just a little deeper into myself, my knuckles white with the strain of holding my legs firmly in place against me. But I can’t force my eyes to shift from him, no matter how hard I try to return them to the ground.
I haven’t seen him since before… Before everything went from simple and easy to confusing and scary. I want to see him closer. I want his warmth to suffuse itself through me the way that it used to when the world was still beautiful and the flowers were still bright and cheery, yet I’m afraid of it. I’m running out of time to drag my eyes away. His gaze is sweeping closer and closer, and my heart rate kicks up a gear, thundering in my chest as my hands go clammy and begin to shake.
I can’t even blink. And then his piercing green eyes find me and they stop their perusal. They stop and he takes one step towards me. I can’t help the way that the corner of my mouth turns up just the tiniest bit, but it seems to encourage him. Steps two, three and four are faster, taken with more confidence, and with each movement of his feet towards me, that twitch of my lips grows into something more. The hairs on my arms prickle to attention as I slowly fall into his shadow. My eyes finally fall from his eyes and drift to his scruffy trainers, the blue Nike tick almost completely faded now. I can see the new signs of wear that have set in since the last time I saw him, and for some unfathomable reason, that smile I have no control over grows. I try to bury it against my knees but I know he’s seen. He never misses a thing. I love and hate him for that.
I can feel his intense green gaze burning into the back of my head where my thinning, ragged hair provides almost no shield against his power over me.
My heart lurches into my empty stomach like a stone when those trainers move. He’s going to walk away without even speaking. Just as I deserve. I should say something, acknowledge him with something more than just a curl of the lips. He deserves so much more than that, but it’s been so long since I had a conversation with anybody that wasn’t a nurse, a psychologist or a parent that I’m not sure I even remember how.
I hold my breath high in my chest, feeling it burn there as I wait for him to leave. It bursts out from me in a surprised yelp when instead of walking away, he sits down on the bench beside me, not too close, but just near enough that I can feel his warmth against my goose-pimpled arms.
I don’t move my stare from the spot his trainers occupied only a moment ago, but I can see his denim clad legs from the corner of my eye and I feel his hand landing on the warm black painted wood beside me, the very edge of his little finger brushing against my leggings, as though he’s as afraid of touching me as I am of letting him.
“Hey.” His voice is the same rich caramel I remember, and I want desperately to relent my grip on my legs and turn to face him. But that control that’s become somehow monumentally necessary for my survival keeps me firmly in place.
I allow the silence to stretch out for five seconds, counting each one slowly in my mind before replying. “Hey…”
I can hear the smile in his voice when he speaks again, and his finger shifts, brushing a little more firmly against my leg, sending sunshine coursing through me. “How… How are you?”
The uncertainty in his otherwise smooth tone is my undoing. My hands drop from my legs before I can stop them, and the right one falls instantly to his. My fingers ghost over his, absorbing some of the familiar heat before he turns his hand palm up and curls his fingers around mine.
I glance down at them and smile at the sight of them together – his tan against my pale, his strength against my delicate, his warmth against my cold. Without conscious thought, I find myself shifting just a fraction of an inch along the bench, closer to him.
I gift him with the fullest smile I can muster when I finally look up into his face again, my hand squeezing his. With him there is no control. There never was and there probably never will be. All there is, is that all-encompassing warmth, absolute knowledge of safety, and the sensation of falling over and over again.
My shoulder brushes against his as I lean in and whisper, “They say I’m doing well.”
I’ve learnt to smile when they enter my room, I’ve learnt to tip back the meds in my mouth, and I’ve learnt to eat when they present me with food. All this so I can hear them say that I’m doing well; my heart swells at those words as I know I’m managing to deceive them. I’m not well at all, dear diary, as well you know. But that’s our little secret.
Lunch was vile today, but I smiled when they walked past my table, scooping the rice salad under a domed lettuce leaf; the perfect ruse. How stupid must they be if a fourteen-year-old girl can fool them? Ha.
The bloody psychologist loves the sound of her own frigging voice. She droned on about body image, social and peer pressure, and the need to love ourselves. I wanted to tell her we know all that, only she gets paid for spouting it out, and we get told we know jack-shit because we’re young. What they don’t get is that the youth rule the world; old people only rent a space, and we kick them out of when they get too mouthy. Fuck off now lady.
It was visiting day today. Lucky me got a visit from my fat mum; she’s so gross. She told me, they say you’re doing well, and I laughed in her face. She gave me those puppy-dog eyes as though I beat her with the lead instead of taking her out for a walk.
She asked me what the food was like, and I told her it was like a five-star all-inclusive hotel. She smiled inanely. God I don’t want to be like her, in any way.
She bleated on about my school friends and what GCSE’s they were going to do in the future. I could tell she was disappointed at her lot. She can’t brag to the other mums about me, although she could brag I was the thinnest if she cared to. Ha.
Since her visit yesterday, I’ve been a moody cow. I’ve forgotten why I should smile, take my meds, and eat. In fact, I threw my lunch across the dining room, and now I have to sit with the nurse later to discuss my feelings, as if that’s going to help. I’m going to keep my mouth shut; see how she copes with that.
Hello diary, old friend. I’m sorry I stopped talking to you last year; I stopped talking to anyone for months. In fact, I became so ill, I was hospitalised as I was close to death; so close I could almost touch his gnarly face.
I thought I wanted to die, to free myself from this life that blackened my soul. I believed it so hard, I thought nothing would change my mind. Then I met her.
Sorry about leaving you hanging yesterday, I was knackered. Where was I, oh yeah, Lizzie. I met her early last year in the eating disorder place before I went into hospital.
Lizzie’s a cool nurse, with dyed red hair, glasses, and a nose stud. I saw her as fat, but back then I thought anyone with plump cheeks rather than my sunken ones, was obese.
Anyway, she spent a lot of time listening to me, not judging or interrupting me, but listening, like a good friend would; I imagine, I’ve never had one. I could talk openly and freely, even swear if I wanted to. She didn’t get upset with me if I ranted at her, or sickly-sweet if I cried. She was just there, every week, just for me.
So now, a year later, I can’t feel my ribs or see my sharp cheekbones, I look almost normal. Almost. I still battle with my emotions and with certain foods, but Lizzie’s still around, and I attend a weekly therapy group she hooked me up with. There are some bitches there, but Lizzie said they’re everywhere, I just have to learn to cope with them, like she does.
You’ve been my constant companion, diary, but when times got tough, even you couldn’t help me. But Lizzie never gave up on me, even when I pushed her away. Maybe one day, I’ll be a mental health nurse like Lizzie. One day.
They say I’m doing well,
But no one sees the tears that fall behind closed doors.
They say I’m doing well,
But no one hears the pain in my vocal chords.
They say I’m doing well,
But no one feels the pain inside my head.
They say I’m doing well,
But no one knows how I wish to be dead.
They say I’m doing well,
And hide behind a fake smile.
They say I’m doing well,
I’m getting there… it’ll take a while.
New Year, New Me
The first of January. A new start, a new me, but where am I supposed to put the old me?
Cracking the spine on my new diary with pen in hand I begin my yearly ritual of listing the things I want to achieve, but as my ballpoint hits the page I have a moment of anxiety; I don’t even know what I want for lunch so how can I write a list of things I want to achieve over the next twelve months? In frustration I pick up last year’s diary which was so important to me only yesterday but now feels like a lead brick weighing me down; listed in these pages I see nothing but failures which is highlighted most when I turn to the first page and see last year’s wish list.
The few small things I managed to achieve I crossed out to the point you can’t read what was there as an act of pure joy at having completed something . . . anything. I can’t even remember what those things were even though they clearly brought me a sense of accomplishment at the time. Glaring back at me between the sparse scribbles is everything I failed to do.
–Take a night course in photography
I’d talked myself out of this one pretty early in the year because who would I take pictures of? It’s not as though I’m a social butterfly who people want to hang out with all the time and there’s only so many pictures of landscapes and buildings a person can take before it’s just seen as sad.
–Lose a stone in weight
I at least started this one and managed to lose seven pounds. I was half way to my goal when Jon—my boyfriend of two years—dumped me and cake became my solace.
–Complete a charity run
This one was vetoed due to not losing the weight. No one wants to see a fat girl run.
–Book a trip to Bali
After Jon left there really wasn’t much point in booking the trip. There was no way I could travel all that way alone, I wouldn’t have made it onto the plane before my anxiety kicked in and that’s if I survived the horrors of holiday clothes shopping. Picking out a one piece while everyone around you decides if they want matching tops and bottoms to their bikinis, or if vogue was right and mix and matching was the way to go this season. Not exactly my idea of a good time.
The more I looked at the list the angrier I became with myself. Seeing in black and white everything you didn’t do isn’t the best feeling in the world, but when you’re a masochist like me you can’t help but keep reliving the pain of disappointment while constantly slicing the knife across your already torn and bleeding heart. Hours slip by as I read page after page about this woman I don’t know; her handwriting is just like mine, but I refuse to believe the words she writes are mine.
The pages of January and February are mostly filled with tiny victories in the diet and exercise area, mixed with uncertainty as to why Jon was becoming distant and unsupportive of the new me I was trying to achieve.
In March I found out why, he didn’t love me. He told me no one would be able to love someone who hid behind a fake illness like depression. He said I just didn’t want to be happy and he wouldn’t allow me to drag him down too so he left. Reading the thoughts and feelings I had during those months bring tears streaming down my face. How could I have ever allowed one person to make me feel so worthless?
Throughout April I seem to have been numb and there’s no evidence of attempting anything on my list of dreams for the year. In fact, I barely wrote in my diary at all and the few pages I did weren’t easy to read through the tear stains.
May was the month my mum marched me to the doctors because I wasn’t coping with life. I wasn’t dealing with my thoughts and emotions and I certainly wasn’t living . . . I was simply alive and present in body alone. Reading back makes me ashamed of myself. The hate and abuse I pushed onto my own mum for doing nothing other than love me and want me to be well makes me sick to my stomach and once again the list of dreams were ignored which is ironic as my doctor had told me I needed to focus on myself.
I make a mental note to spend tomorrow with mum and to let her know I love her always and apologise for the way I treated her back then.
During June and July I took my meds, went to work and moved back into my mum’s house so she could take care of me. What I wrote was that the world could get fucked and I was reverting back to being a small child who needed her mummy to tuck her in at night to keep the bad dreams away.
June and July were slightly dramatic months for me.
August saw me take a trip, not to Bali and not on my own, but a trip none the less. A few friends and I went to Paris for the weekend. Reading the apprehension I felt beforehand brings the feelings crashing through my body once again and for a moment my chest is tight and my breathing shallow, I don’t think I can continue this trip down memory lane, but I know I have to. I don’t know why, but I know looking back on the year gone by is what I need to do to be able to look to the year ahead.
The trip was one I’d always wanted to take, but had thought I would take it with Jon and we would explore the most romantic city in the world together.
Reading the fun the girls and I had while there brought me my first smile from the pages of last year. Seeing the Louvre, The Mona Lisa, The Eiffel Tower and losing myself in the gothic beauty of Notre Dame were a turning point for me; they reminded me there was a world out there and it was mine for the taking. The medication helped me not get too excited, the last thing I needed was to set my sights too high; I was all too familiar with the fall which could and inevitably would follow. My most vivid and profound memory of the trip though was adding my padlock to the hoards of others on the Pont Des Arts or bridge of love as it is more commonly known.
Surrounded by lovers holding hands and making promises to each other I crouched down and made a promise to my heart—never again would I give it to someone unworthy, someone who would not fight to protect it and rather than throw my key in the river, I brought it home and stuck it in my diary.
Fingering the outline of the key the promise I made slips from my lips “One day I’ll come back here with someone who loves me for my ugly parts, the parts I only show him and we’ll unlock you again.”
September always feels like a new start, something probably instilled in me from my school days and last September was no different. My every day routine became just that . . . routine. Things I found hard only four weeks before such as get out of bed or meet up with friends I managed without anxiety. I no longer worried if I made arrangements with friends they would cancel or that it would be one of the days I refused to get out of bed. I could go shopping in the local supermarket instead of driving twenty miles to the next town just to be sure I wouldn’t bump into Jon and fall apart.
It was also the month people began to comment on how well they thought I was coping with life. I think having that kind of external validation was something I needed to be able to see the change in myself.
October and November I decided to get back on track with my diet and fitness. I joined a swimming club, running club and dance class. I almost chickened out on the dance class because of my weight, the fact that I couldn’t dance and I also had no partner, but my never wavering wall of support or mum as she prefers to be called refused to let me quit before I started and she came with me—trust me, seeing a fifty-five year old woman attempt street dancing will have you laughing off the pounds if nothing else. After a few lessons it had become one of my favourite ways to spend my time, the class was fun and I was partnered with a guy called Joe. He was a little younger than me, really fit and a great dancer; he wasn’t so bad on the eyes either.
The dance school hosted a Halloween show and even the beginners like me who had only just realised they had a left and a right foot were involved; because Joe was my partner and he was an experienced dancer we had a dance where we were the leads. We practised every night to get me up to par and each practise session ended later than the last. The night before the show Joe asked me if he could take me out for a drink, at first I thought he meant the whole cast were going and he wanted me to tag along, that was until he kissed me. The page for the thirty-first of October was filled with a flyer for the show and the rose Joe had given me as I walked out of the girl’s changing room.
December read like a love struck teenager wrote the entries, but the truth is I’m still learning a lot about Joe and myself as individuals—he calls us a couple, I call us love buddies.
Having relived the past year in just a few hours I realise how tired it’s made me, the year drained me for twelve months and I just let it take the first few hours of the New Year which lies before me.
I hear Joe walk into the bedroom, I think he’s been doing it a few times while I’ve been reading, but he knows when I need space and respects me enough to give it to me. Looking up at him I know no matter what the year ahead has in store, the lessons I’ve learned with this man will help me steer clear of my darker parts or at least know if I visit them, they cannot keep me for as long as they once did.
Cracking open my new diary once again I write without hesitation.
My goals for the year ahead
My friends and family say I’m doing well, but I’m doing so much better than well, I’m doing strong and focused and MINDful. For the first time in my life I’m listening to the warning bells my mind and body send me. I’m learning to live within my own limitations and knowing that having limitations does not make me weak, it makes me human. I now see that asking for help is the strongest thing I can do while living with depression. I know anxiety can always appear without a moment’s hesitation, but I also know the breathing exercises I need to do to fight it.
Am I fixed? No, I don’t believe I was broken. I’m just wired differently to others.
I do have a new me stepping into the world this year, but where do I put the old me? I keep her inside of me because she is the greatest person to teach me things about myself.
This weekend there’s going to be a something-or-other, apparently. I
Heard plenty of people would be there.
Everyone loves a good party, and I was looking for just such an opportunity to invite
So here’s my little invite, I know you’ll probably say
Aaaaah no I’m washing my hair, aaaaah nah I’m just so snowed under right now,
You know how it is, right?
‘cept I don’t believe you.
My instinct tells me you’re avoiding being around anyone, any time, anywhere.
Do you think that somewhere,
Over the hills and fair away,
Is a place where you can be totally alone and free of this
Niggling, nagging, freaking, twitching, crazy-ass mess of self-doubt and stress to which you’d happily
Go and be…..
Extremely alone with your fuss and your hurt.
Let me take you somewhere new.
Let me get you out of this house and show you a safer place than your own mind…
…just for a while.
The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.
Hope, my family always told me to believe in hope, no matter what the circumstances. But how can you remain positive when everything around you falls apart? How do you face life when it only gets worse?
My life hasn’t been easy. My parents divorced when I was two and, from what my mother told me, it was because my father was beating her.
Over the next couple of years, my mother had a new boyfriend every week until she met my stepfather. He wasn’t a good man either. He was a drug addict who used my mother as an ATM to feed his addiction. My mother was stupid enough to believe he loved her, which gave me a negative outlook on men, even if I still wanted to believe there was someone good for me out there.
The moment I turned sixteen, I left and never looked back. It’s been ten years and I don’t know if my mother ever tried to find me.
I managed to make something of my life; I found a job, a place to live and a boyfriend who quickly became my husband. My life became the dream I always hoped it would be, but it turned into a nightmare the first time my husband hit me.
A friend of ours had uploaded a picture of me dancing platonically with another man onto Facebook. My husband couldn’t make the party because he had to work late so the guy took pity on me sitting by myself. The moment my husband saw the picture he stormed over to me and slapped me across the cheek. He told me that it was my fault, that I must have done something to seduce my dance partner because there was no way he would have danced with me otherwise. And like a fool, I believed him
After that things calmed down for a while and I let myself hope that everything was back to normal, but the look of disgust in his eyes every time he drank chilled my blood. I didn’t know how to get away; I had nowhere to go and the few friends I had were our mutual friends so I couldn’t risk asking for help and them telling my husband where I had gone.
I tried to keep myself by escaping inside books, every love story gave me some hope to cling on to and dream about. All I have ever wanted was a loving relationship with a man who would look at me with adoration instead of disgust; who would want to spend time with me instead of ignoring me.
His repertoire of abuse developed into manipulation and mental abuse and I quickly became a shell of my former self. I couldn’t do what I wanted or go where I wanted without his approval. It took me a while to find the courage to leave him but my decision was made for me when he hit me the second time. I had been quietly reading a book whilst drinking a glass of wine when he drunkenly stormed into the living room. He then pulled the book from my hands and threw it in the open fire before yelling at me and insulted me; telling me that I didn’t deserve him and was nothing but a bit of skirt. By this stage he had me by my hair and he dragged me to stand. I remember seeing him pull his hand behind me before he struck, connecting with my face so hard that I lost my balance. He carried on screaming at me until his voice became hoarse and he stormed out of the apartment. It was in that moment, sitting on the floor with my arms around my knees waiting to see if he was coming back to finish the job, that I decided to pack my bags and disappear, once again. It seems history is destined to repeat itself.
Thanks to my husband, I lost any hope I had of finding happiness one day.
People always told me that I had done well for myself, I had a good life and was lucky to have a husband like him. Little did they know what an abusive man he was behind closed doors.
How can I be happy when the people who are supposed to love me only manage to hurt me?
Ten years ago I left the only house I’d ever known without regrets and, three days ago, I did it again.
I drove aimlessly for a couple of days and spent the time thinking about those books I love to read. They are my only happiness and the only thing that gives me a semblance of hope.
Tonight is the first night that I’ve allowed myself to do something that I want to do. I want to live and be myself, even just for one night.
Earlier today, I was handed a flyer for a new art gallery opening when I was walking around town. It’s not really the type of thing I’m into, but why not go anyway? I can do whatever I want to here without worrying about the consequences.
I make my way to one of the hostesses and take a glass of champagne. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s free so I can’t really complain. I take a sip and smile, it’s not as bad as I thought. Looks like tonight won’t be as bad as I thought. I feel happy, which is a first in a really long time. I walk around the gallery and take my time to really appreciate the paintings. I don’t know who the artist is, but they have a real talent.
There are so many people around that it’s making me a bit uneasy. Is anyone judging me? Do they know I’m poor and have no idea what to do with my life? I wonder if they can see the telling yellow tint on my cheek where my husband hit me.
I spend most of my time asking myself hundreds of questions about my life. Living alone doesn’t scare me and maybe I should have spent more time alone after I left my mother, instead of jumping into a relationship with the first guy I met who I thought might be my Prince Charming. What scares me the most is not living my life to the fullest and not being happy. I’ll be twenty-seven in a few days and I’m alone, homeless, jobless. I’ve been stood in front of a painting of a woman looking morose for quite some time now. Her long, auburn hair covers her shoulders and her big green eyes fixed on an invisible spot behind me. A dark shadow covers the corner of her lips and stretches over her pink cheek. She looks vulnerable, like she’s just lost everything. She looks like me.
I draw in a deep breath as the realization hits me. I quickly turn around and accidentally walk straight into someone. I look up at the man I just walked into and apologize before running out of the room. I need to put as much distance as I possibly can between the painting and myself. That painting is the mirror that I’ve refused to look in for years, unable to face my own distress and sadness. It’s ironic really, I judged my mother harshly for what happened to her but then let it happen to myself. Granted I left but I didn’t leave straightaway, I was sure he would change.
I take another deep breath when I finally get outside. I’m a mess, my makeup is running down my face, it’s cold and snowing, and I’m only wearing a tank top and a skirt. I wrap my arms around my body in an attempt to warm myself but it’s in vain. I turn around, ready to go back inside, when I bump into the same man I just walked into. I look up into his eyes and lose myself. In that moment, I forget everything. I forget that my mother never loved me, I forget that my husband didn’t either and I forget that I have nothing.
The stranger is looking at me as if I’m the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and it is in this moment that my hope returns.
So I’ve struggled,
I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
You look at me like dirt.
Why do I feel this way?
Should I believe the things you say?
Worrying if what I’m doing is right.
What will I find?
I end it with you.
Need to get out of this hole.
Claw out of darkness,
Need to heal my soul.
I saw the light,
I chose to fight.
Silence throughout it all.
Back on top from whence I fell.
If they ask, I’ll just say,
“THEY” say I’m doing well.
Just. After time,
My life is my own. All Mine.
Gosh, it’s so long since I wrote a poem! I used to write all the time when I was in my teenage years. My my, how life changes!
I just want to say how hard it was in the beginning to ask for help. I had struggled with anxiety for a long time before I spoke to someone, It was only after I had started pulling my hair our (I had a lovely small bald patch to show for it) that I was encouraged to talk to someone. Even now, years later, if I have a bad day at work or if there’s something that’s weighing on my mind, I still feel the urge.
Talking helps. Talking to my partner, my mum or anyone for that matter! Learning to let the little things go has improved my quality of life. If I don’t think I’m going to remember the current “incident”, that’s causing the anxiety, in a year. I let it go. (Please don’t start singing THAT song now I’ve written let it go. Dammit now I’m humming it!)
I don’t ever want to feel how I did back then. People did always used to say I’m doing well, because they never knew any different until I started to get help.
I refuse to be the person I used to be. On my back I have….
Take me as I am,
Who I was,
And for whom I shall become.
Tattooed there. A reminder that I’m stronger now than ever before. I’m happy.
Never feel ashamed to talk out loud to people and share. Even if it’s just a tiny sliver of your worries, anxieties, the highs and your lows, it may just be the start to finding your way back to being you.
You’ll find your way back. I believe in you.
You just have to believe too.
But I’ll Try…
They say I’m doing well.
I’m doing well.
What does that even mean? I looked it up: “in a good or satisfactory way,” or “in good health; free or recovered from illness”. I don’t want to be just good or satisfactory, and I’m not.
I’m not free, and I haven’t recovered. So no, I’m not doing well.
I want to be different. I want to do things the way the books told me. I want to feel the way he does, smile like he does. I want to have the same excitement I see in his eyes when he wakes up in the middle of the night and does the things I should be doing…while I stare at the foot of the bed and wonder what I did wrong. I want to love her, and I do. I just don’t like her. I don’t like what she’s done to me, even though he says he loves me as much as he always has. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. I’m too tired to care, too tired to fall asleep but too exhausted to do my new job. Thinking about it makes me cry. Thinking of nothing makes me cry. I cry all the time, until my eyes burn, my throat is sore and my head throbs with guilt. Sometimes I get angry and shout at him, but he’s still here. He holds me while I push him away, until I’m too tired to fight and fall into his arms. When she cries I leave the room; it hurts to be around her, and it hurts to be away from her. The world wasn’t supposed to be this dark; this wasn’t what we planned and it isn’t what we want. He’ll leave me eventually, when he realises there’s no future for us; when I can’t fix myself and can’t explain what’s wrong. Why I feel this way. Hopeless. I feel hopeless. Helpless. I feel helpless. Well. I don’t feel it. I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t feel so heavy, so lost, a stranger in my own body.
“Hey,” he says, stroking our daughter’s hair as I stare through him and let the tears fall freely.
I look down at our baby, swathed in pink and lying in the arms of the woman who can’t bring herself to be the mother she deserves. She has his eyes – big and wide and full of life. I’m glad she got them from him; they’re what I fell in love with when I first met him. Her nose is a little button, her lips full with a little pout…and she has a little patch of fair hair on the top of her head – the same colour as mine. Everything about her is little. Innocent and pure and… ours.
It’s the first time I’ve held her in a week. Since I’d last had her in my arms and thought about ending my own life because I couldn’t bear the guilt of not wanting to hold her.
I don’t want to leave them.
I don’t want to be unwell, failing to cope and un-stable.
I want us to be a family.
“You’re doing well.”
I’m not. We both know that.
But I’ll try.
With the stab of indifference rippling through me, I kissed her smooth forehead, closing my eyes and whispering my wish against her skin. “I’m doing well.”
They say I’m doing well…
So, what does this mean to me…?
I could relay you a million stories, about people I’ve known or met in passing. I have one of those minds; I remember lots of little details people tell me and they always come in useful when I’m writing. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I could tell you someone else’s story, but how about telling you mine?
I’ve never been ill (touch wood). I did however come close to serious injury in a car crash once but walked away fine. I have never suffered a mental health issue myself. But behind some smiles, there are those of us who have watched others suffer and when you don’t have a mental health issue yourself, it is really hard to understand what someone else is going through when you can’t see into their head. The mind is not an exact science.
From my point of view, a lot of people assume Sarah Michelle Lynch is together and has it sorted. It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. A part of me will admit that I’ve shirked away from trying to understand the problems people around me have been going through. I’ve shied away from trying to get them to talk about their issues, but maybe that’s just because I cannot empathise entirely. For so many years, I was occupied by an overwhelming sense of ambition to be the beacon my family needed me to be. It’s the curse of your twenties to try to be all things to all people. At the end of the day, I’m just me, and I am happy to have come to that acceptance.
I often write stories about struggle, about deceit, about lies and secrecy, but my life is pretty normal and boring really. In the past few years, since I started writing actually, I’ve learned to be very grateful for having a positive attitude. Give me a pen and a pad of paper and I am happy. I can write anywhere. My is portable. A chocolate bar and a cup of tea too wouldn’t go amiss. That ability of mine to just be happy is something I never saw any value in – until I realised a lot of people find it difficult to even get out of bed some days.
Whether you have a mental health issue or not, we’re all just people, striving for the same things. Love and understanding. Life is hard, nobody ever said it was going to be easy. Journeys of self-discovery can be debilitating for a time, in fact, but I firmly believe knowledge and awareness can empower and help people to rebuild and renew.
I always tell myself it is important to remember what I’ve overcome to bring me to the point where I’m at now. This point. At this moment in time. I put myself through university when I could have easily given up and got a manager’s job at the place I worked part-time during that period. There were times when I wanted to quit, to give up, but I didn’t. I wasn’t the only one – loads of my friends were putting themselves through university too. We did it and came out stronger for it.
I was the first person in my family to go to university. Let me put that into perspective for you. My maternal grandfather was illiterate. My mum got her GCSE in English in her thirties! (mega proud of her by the way!) My parents are both from broken homes. My mum, fostered when she was four, lost two elder brothers, before she was put with a family that didn’t really want her and my auntie. My dad grew up in poverty, suffering like you would never imagine he had. My grandmother was a manic depressive and back in those days, it wasn’t dealt with like it would be today. My grandfather turned a blind eye; he was a womaniser who abandoned my dad and his brother to the mindset of a seriously ill woman who rarely washed, rarely fed her kids, rarely tried to instil in them any sense of decency. I’m the eldest of four kids myself. School friends used to meet my dad and think we were posh. He’s an intelligent man, but he has never been posh. Not many know the full story. Not many people know how my parents struggled to bring us all up, without grandparents to help out. They struggled. I know, because I remember. I was there. I know about the mindset of poverty and how difficult it has been for my dad, especially, to let go of.
Academia is a different world to the one I was born into. Yet in a lot of ways, it saved me. Getting my degree was the biggest achievement I made, up until that point anyway. Nobody on God’s Earth can take it away from me.
After university I did what I always said I was going to do and I worked in journalism for seven years. I learned more in this job than I had learnt in my life before that. My degree gave me a foundation, as did the various part-time jobs I’d done along the way, but I didn’t learn anything until I worked in journalism, which opened my eyes to the human race in all its varying degrees.
I worked with many talented people that might never fulfil their promise because of how truly scary it is to put yourself out there with a piece of work that means more than a pay check. Stories of unlikely heroes and heroines fascinate me because you don’t know if a future star might be sitting next to you in the next office cubicle. We all have the potential for greatness, there’s often just a lot of luck involved and knowing the right people.
I went back to journalism after maternity leave and found five or six people doing my old job. Eventually leaving that job was the best thing I ever did.
I wrote my first novel when I was just twenty-eight. The adrenalin of completing that was like nothing I’d ever felt before. Like a lot of other self-published authors, I found friends and family responded to my new pursuit in various ways. Real friends celebrate you, while others fall by the wayside as you pursue your dream.
I’ve known for quite some time that I was born to write, and the notion grows stronger all the time with every word I put down, with every other author I work with thanking me for helping them.
I’ve always known my destiny is words and it’s something you can put alongside my name.
But even with all my confidence and vigour for this writing lark, I still have days where words don’t flow, where I doubt myself. But it’s okay, and I take the rough with the smooth. My ambition has lessened as my love for the art has grown.
Since I’ve joined the book community and spoken to people like me, I’ve realised how words have the power to do good. I’ve adapted my writing style a lot over the years after realising I actually have a power at my fingertips to do good and it’s why I keep writing. Why I decided to do an event like this.
At the same time, I realise how the world demands, how it requires and takes and manipulates the truth of an artist’s soul for its own ends. Which is why I asked all the authors taking part to write something with regards to, “They Say I’m Doing Well,” because people’s definition of that varies. Ask yourself about doing well… Does doing well mean earning big bucks, having all the letters after your name, or does doing well translate to literally everything? Health, wealth, prospects? What?
I feel that this world can be harsh and cruel because we forget that we’re all human – most of us – and to err is to be human. There’s no formula; no recipe for success, or personal happiness.
They say I’m doing well but some days, I wake up and don’t like what I see in the mirror. Some days I don’t want to write because it all feels like sludge between my fingers. I question myself all the time: do I speak to my friends enough? Is Andy okay? Is Serena doing well at school? Am I doing enough? All these things are normal, but if they become consuming, that’s when you know you have to take a step back and retrace. Ask yourself, is there really a reason for me to worry? Focus on a good thing, a place you can take your mind to, and reorganise everything back to that safe place. I never knew these were invaluable tools I’d had in use for so many years until I watched someone close to me crumble. And it changed me, too. It made me realise that what you give, you get back tenfold, and when you walk the path together it’s so much more interesting than going it alone.
None of us are perfect. None of us. Some of us might be doing “well”, whatever your definition of well is, but then again, we’re all human and all have our crosses to bear – I try to remember that everyday. I see people who appear confident but a tiny fracture in their defences allows me to see that they’re not at all fixed or whole. They’re broken, but in time and with the right love and support, they’ll heal. It’s funny how we judge people on first impressions but how, when we really get to know them, we begin to associate colours and patterns with them instead of faces. We no longer see the outside, but the inside. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know someone though, they sometimes go right on to surprise the hell out of you.
The one thing I will pass on to my daughter is this… never give up on learning. Never. I didn’t. I will not, either. Education… it’s the basis of our civilisation, of making this world better… and doing it all in the name of people that didn’t have the same choices we have.
To round off my contribution to the blog tour, I have written you a poem. Poetry is a medium I don’t get on with sometimes. For me, it bites at me, eats me away. I find it harder to write poetry than novels. A poem sometimes stews in my recesses for weeks before I just write it. I will write it flat out, and that will be it. A poem’s a bunch of feelings condensed, with the potential for so many different interpretations. Poetry, for me, is real. Poetry protects. Poetry reveals our innards and I know why a lot of people struggling with their mindset write poetry, to get it out there… to expel, in order to digest.
So, here we go…
Caress my hair around my ears
I lay my head awhile on your lap
Silence pervades the air and still
We tell each other more than
Words could ever tell
Soothe my aches with your hands
Take my soul in your arms
And keep me safe there
I won’t tell if you don’t
Secrets we keep behind our eyes
In front of the telly we stare
But we’re together, so it’s okay
Flimflam words don’t matter
Because it’s just time together
And time’s all that matters
You’re the strength beyond
My fingertips, the one always there
You silence my worries, hear my cries
You cradle my neuroses and nurture them
Loving all of me as you do
He is wise and kind and soulful
He carries me on his back
He has peccadilloes of his own
Which I love in return
And together we reign supreme
You struggled, you overcame
You’ve known pain and anguish
Disappointment and deceit
And came out the other side
Much stronger than people realise
They say I’m doing well
But it’s the strength you give to me
I couldn’t do all this without the struggle,
And without the journey…
We wouldn’t have the dream
I walk into the local pub and reluctantly make my way to the bar. Joining a group of my friends, they hug, kiss and greet me with a, “Look who’s here.”
“…you’re doing well to come in tonight.”
“…we’ll take you out of that bit of a funk you’ve been in.”
My best friend Eve pours me a glass of red wine from the bottle she has on the bar behind her. Hands it to me saying, “See, this will cheer you up. Everyone needs a night with their mates from time to time.”
I nod, as the lump I have in my throat prevents me from replying.
No use trying to explain. That nowhere, and no one can help me stop the way I feel. Unable to articulate the emotions, I just stand there sipping my wine.
The pub is packed to the rafters; people jostling for space making me feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed.
Music blasting out as the band set up in the usual place, ready to play. I used to love watching bands until this all enveloping darkness overcame me.
Sipping my drink I stare into space. So alone, isolated despite the packed pub and friends all around me. I find even the smallest task difficult now. My intense emo-tions get in the way.
Meanwhile my head is still working. Making a plan of its own. A way to end the torment and pain I feel constantly.
No one listens to me properly, not really, to what I have to say.
I get told.
“Snap out of it.”
“You wouldn’t be so selfish as to try and top yourself. Would you?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
But, in my head I am screaming out and in agony. I can’t begin to describe the way I feel and no one seems willing to listen.
The pain in my heart is a physical one and very real to me. Constant and abiding.
I don’t want to be this way at all. I want to be the glass half-full person I used to be.
If only someone would actually reach out to me and pull me back from the edge. Does everyone believe I enjoy the constant crying and black thoughts I keep having? No one seems to see me and believe that I am in such a state. Able to do something dreadful to myself.
They won’t miss me for long. Memories fade. Don’t they?
I tell everyone I am nipping to the loo, but I’m not. I have a plan now which I comprehend is dangerous. If someone has a plan they have got to the stage of putting that plan into action. I know this on some level. But my need to end my life is overtaking any sensible thoughts in my head.
The sensible thing to me, is to go through with my plan.
I head home and retrieve my car keys. About to step outside, two of my boys appear, returning from a trip to the shops. They see the look in my eye and each takes an arm, turning me round. Bringing me back into the house.
Tears are rolling down my cheeks. A flood of never-ending tears. My constant despair manifests.
When did I start to cry?
They tell me how much they love me. That things will get better. They will get the right help for this. With this all abiding, all encompassing black depression. It isn’t a funk, or a little episode I am having. Depression is so much more than this. It is like being in a straight jacket. Unable to escape and… constant. Leaving you in despair.
They are both crying now, finally someone realises that I am not doing well.
Maybe though, with someone listening, with love and understanding soon I will be able to say…
I am doing well.
They say I’m doing well
But what do they know?
They see my smile
think I’m good to go.
They cannot see
just what my smile hides.
The battles I have
with the demons inside.
Nobody knows the struggle
every day brings.
Some days I’m crippled
by the voices that sing.
Telling me how
useless I am,
that I’m ugly and hated,
how my life is a sham.
Yes I do battle
and sometimes I win,
those days are the light
from the darkness within.
So yes, they are right
today I’m doing well
but what of tomorrow?
Only time will tell.
Look On the Bright Side of Life
Late October 2015, and the year is dying. As I step out along the country lanes and scuff up the dry, withered leaves, I cannot help but focus on my own possible demise. Once again there are two enlarged lymph nodes where enlarged lymph nodes shouldn’t be, despite one thyroidectomy, two neck dissections, and four treatments of radioactive iodine. The possible implications start to play havoc with my mind. I start to think about arranging my funeral and sorting out my affairs. I change my bank accounts to joint ones, and try not to sink into a deep depression.
They say papillary thyroid cancer is a ‘good’ cancer. This had been told to me 10 years previously with just the right amount of bonhomie by a rather fortunate medic who had no idea what it would be like to suffer personally from an advanced stage 4 variety. The disease is slow-growing but relentless in its efforts to take over the body. Silent battles have been valiantly fought over many years with a clever, elusive enemy. However, casualties are now mounting at an alarming pace; the voice is croaky, the neck is stiff and painful, the eyes are dry at night and watery during the day, the thyroxine-induced palpitations are increasing along with bone thinning, and slowly but surely my vitality and joie-de-vivre is dissipating, along with the heat of the summer.
At the age of 47 I had only suffered from the odd cold or sore throat, and had been into hospital just to have my 2 babies. This was to change somewhat drastically with my cancer diagnosis in June 2005, initially mis-diagnosed as a multi-nodular goitre by a radiologist stuffed full of his own self-importance. I suddenly found that many doctors wanted to be in my personal space, although luckily I’ve been unconscious for the more serious intrusions. Their jovial bedside manner and tendency to understate matters is irritating; why not speak the facts as they stand and let the patient be informed of what is going to happen to them? I was never told that radioactive iodine could cause narrowing of the eyes’ tear ducts; I had to look up the information for myself after I was brushed off as having blepharitis and told to wash my eyes with baby shampoo! I eventually needed to be in another surgeon’s personal space as he repaired the tear duct in my left eye in 2009. The same surgeon repaired the right eye seven years later.
However, I am still here after 10 years of fighting. Metastatic thyroid cells invaded my lungs early on with the intention of finishing me off, but as yet I have no symptoms from the secondary lung cancer, which does not seem to grow. I take my daily constitutional walks around my village, inhaling the country air and mentally sticking up a middle finger at my foe. I’ve even purchased a bicycle, and relish the fact that I can still pedal out along the narrow roads and feel the breeze on my face. If villagers pass the time of day with me and ask why my voice is croaky, I tell them I have caught a cold. I must be known locally as ‘Germy’! I avoid pity like the plague; all I’ve ever wanted to be is ‘normal’, the same as everybody else.
What is ‘normal’? Everybody in this life at some time or another has a cross to bear. There is no point in bleating ‘Why me?’ The answer is ‘Well, why not?’ Why should I be singled out for a trouble-free life? Bad luck affects us all in different ways. With me it’s thyroid cancer, but others can be worse off in their misfortune. Life is not a bed of roses, and we have to deal with the lot we have been given. This is where I am fortunate because twice in my life thyroid cancer, strangely enough, has worked in my favour.
The first time my dark cloud had a silver lining was after the initial thyroidectomy operation in 2005. One vocal cord was permanently paralysed during the procedure, and I was left with a whisper of a voice for many months. At the time I was working as a grade 2 clerk in a busy hospital, and could no longer answer the phone or speak to patients and relatives who came up to the desk. I was re-deployed and promoted to a grade 3 assistant medical secretary, typing clinic letters only, rising to a grade 4 secretary when a semblance of a voice had returned and it was proved that I could do the work. Seeing as it was a medical secretary’s post I had been after when I initially joined the hospital’s staff in 2002, my dream had at last come true. I did not possess the qualifications initially to apply for a secretary’s post, and had originally been turned down countless times when I had applied for job vacancies. Thyroid cancer had stepped in and given me what I wanted!
The second time it worked in my favour was in October 2014 when after a period of 7 years’ remission, the cancer returned. I needed a right neck dissection, and the procedure caused my voice to disappear again, no doubt because of the trauma of intubation. I was by then 57 years old, suffering more with the effects of the various operations I had had, and I decided to take early retirement on grounds of sickness and disability. I had had enough trying to hold down a job in-between undergoing procedures. My oncologist put up a good case for me, and I was granted my pension. I am now free to do the thing I have always wanted to do all my life – write novels!
To date I have written 8 novels and 4 novellas, and am currently working on a book of short stories. I am having a ball while I suffer the effects of my cancer treatment. I have my own little space in our lounge, where I sit and let my creative instincts take over and banish thoughts of death and disease from my mind. Sometimes I even forget to start cooking dinner, so lost am I in the twists and turns of my plots. My husband is kindness personified, and is only too happy to see me enjoying what life I have left. I sell my stories on Amazon to supplement my pension, and to date have sold over 1000 books.
The waiting is one of the worst things about this disease. First you wait for surgery, and then you wait for a diagnosis. Following treatment you wait to see if it has been successful, if it hasn’t then you must wait for more treatment. If your thyroxine dose is incorrect, then you wait 6 weeks for a blood test after taking an increased or reduced dose, because a new strength of thyroxine takes 6 weeks work properly. I have spent 11 years as a lady-in-waiting.
What length of life do I have left? Who knows? It’s as long as a piece of string. It could be 30 years, or it could be 3. I have exhausted two of the treatments, surgery and radioactive iodine, but still have two more to go before the doctors hang up their white coats and walk out the door. The third treatment is external beam radiotherapy, with its drastic side-effects and possible hospitalisation for an eventual inability to swallow. The fourth and final treatment is a new drug on the market, which also has many side-effects. Apart from surgery and radioactive iodine I have also had four sessions of healing with a world-renowned spiritual healer. God alone knows if it was the surgery or the healing which helped, but my latest scan results at the end of January 2016 showed no evidence of any thyroid cancer cells in my neck, and the two enlarged lymph nodes that could be seen in October 2015 had shrunk. They say I’m doing well, and therefore I hope to be around for many more years to come.
What lies ahead? None of us know, and perhaps it’s better that way. Not a single one of us gets out of this life alive. My own father died of cancer at the age of 49, and without the interventions I’ve had my life would have been similarly shortened. He never knew my two sons, and I would never have met my four grandchildren, which fill my life in a way only grand-children can, if I had not had the treatment I’ve had. Every day is a bonus for me now, and I’m making the most of life while I can. I’ve just been upgraded from 3-monthly follow ups to 6-monthly, so don’t worry about me, I’m doing very well!
They say I’m doing well
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-three minutes since I last cried. I can feel them though; the tears are there, building inside my chest causing it to tighten as they try to escape.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-three minutes since the last time I cut my skin to let the blood take it all away. But I can feel it building again, the pain inside my soul that’s desperate to be released.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-three minutes since I thought about ending it all. I felt nothing but peace when I thought about how simple it would be to stop it all, how slipping away would be so much easier on everyone. The darkness wouldn’t hurt, the darkness would welcome me like an old friend.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-four minutes since I asked for help. That was the moment I sat in a chair and spoke to someone who understood how I felt, told them how much pain I had inside. I let them in and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Even after all the blood I’ve shed and tears I’ve cried, talking was what scared me the most.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-five minutes.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-six minutes.
They say I’m doing well, and one day I might believe them. For now I will just count the days, hours, and minutes, because every minute that passes is another minute I’ve survived.
They say I’m doing well, but I can feel myself falling into the darkness again.
It’s been eleven days, six hours, and twenty-seven minutes.
Harold was fascinated with the veins in his hands. Each morning, he would wake up, listening to the sound of his bones creaking as he dragged his weary body out of bed, and then he would go and sit in his chair by the window. No words were spoken. No thoughts were in his mind. He was blank, quiet and empty until the moment he let his bony bottom fall against the old pink cushioned chair. Harold would place his hands out on his lap and simply look down to study them.
It had become a fascination of his.
An odd fascination, of that he was well aware. At ninety-four years old, Harold knew that his days were limited. Family would come and go from the nursing home. They would help him brush the hair on his head where his stiff muscles would no longer allow him to reach. They would chat to him about the news, their voices taking on a similar tone to that people adopt when they speak to babies. They’d talk about the weather or the small garden that surrounded his current residence. They’d walk in with smiles stretched high into their cheeks, just never quite high enough for those smiles to reach their eyes. They’d pretend they wanted to be there, like Harold couldn’t see right through them or every false compliment they gave him.
Not that it mattered to him. He was grateful for any effort at all, given the fact that the majority of the poor beggars in that home didn’t have a soul they could rely on to visit. He was lucky to have a family who cared, a family who pretended they wanted to be there, just to make him feel a little better.
Yet, no matter what the days had in store for him, he always made a point to sit in his chair and study the thick, squishy veins that now sat prominently under his speckled skin.
When did they appear? he thought to himself. One minute he had been youthful, walking around town with a girl on each arm. Then he met Thea and in the blink of an eye, he was a father to four boys, a grandfather to nine grandchildren and he spent the majority of his time digging out weeds from his beloved garden.
Never once, though, in all his life prior to his entry to the nursing home, had he registered the moment that those big blue veins had started to rise under his skin.
It was a sign of age that taunted him daily, even in his sleep. It took him back to his youth where Harold could remember sitting on his grandpa’s knee, tracing his fingers over the thick veins of his grandpa’s hand, and every night he would ask the same question:
“Why do they stick out so much? Tell me again, gramps.”
His grandfather would place a sad smile on his face and answer, “It’s because my veins are so full of life, Harold. I’ve lived so long, they’re full to bursting now.”
“Bursting?” Harold would gasp in surprise, as though he hadn’t already heard the story a hundred times before.
“What happens when they do burst?”
His grandfather would sigh and try to hide the sadness in his voice, but Harold always saw it there in his eyes. “I go to another world to live another life with new veins that are empty, waiting to be filled.”
“Can I go with you?”
“No, child. I’m afraid you can’t. You have to stay here and fill your own body up with a lifetime full of memories first.”
“But that will take forever,” Harold cried.
“Hopefully.” His grandfather smiled.
It was just another day, and as Harold stared down at his hands on that cold, frosty morning, he felt his heart beat harder against his frail chest once again. He felt his fingers ache from the temperatures. He felt the rush of blood to his head when the panic started to take over, but as always, he remained still. Frozen. A little bit numb to the life that he was fortunate to have still beating through him.
Eventually, the door creaked open and the nurse walked in, her voice booming, cutting through the silence.
“Good morning, Harold,” she called out to him.
He didn’t look up. He knew that the nurse wasn’t looking his way or expecting an answer. It was the same thing they did every morning. They would waltz through the door, their eyes aimed high at the ceiling so they didn’t have to stare misery in the face. As long as they could pretend that Harold was fine, he was fine and their job was done.
Turning his hands over, he began to study his palms, and he allowed himself to think of all the wonderful, magical things he’d held in them.
The first time he touched his wife beneath her blouse and the shiver that ran through her body.
The first time he traced the length of her spine right before they made love.
The first time he held her hand as her new husband.
The first time he held his firstborn child, Zach, worrying suddenly how weak he seemed with the weight of his world now in his grip.
The first time he cleaned his child’s play wounds.
The last time he brushed his mother’s hair back from her face before he kissed her forehead and said goodbye when she died.
The last time the pad of his thumb brushed over his darling Thea’s lips.
The last time his hands had been able to get a solid grip on the trowel he loved to spend so much time with in the garden.
So many firsts. Too many, they were uncountable.
So many lasts. Too many, they were unforgettable.
But my God, what a life he had had. What a life he had held on to with a white-knuckle grip, and how blessed he had been. How blessed he was that, even though they failed to show him their love the way they used to, his family still cared. They still showed up. They still tried.
A small smile tried to tug on one corner of Harold’s mouth, but he quickly twitched his lips and remained straight faced. He had no desire for the nurse to see any kind of relief on his face and hang around. Small talk and polite conversation were no longer his forte.
Still, she appeared before him soon enough and she went about her usual checks, fussing, brushing his hair away from his face, trying to move all the ornaments that sat proudly like memory trophies on his window ledge.
“It’s a nice day, isn’t it, Harold? The air is very crisp.”
He thought about how horrible the day was and how the low temperatures made him feel as though he was the Tin Man from that film Thea used to watch all the time.
Daring to peek up from under his bushy, overgrown eyebrows, he glanced the nurse’s way. It was the one he neither cared for or despised, so he quickly looked back down at his hands again.
“Always so full of conversation,” she said through an obvious smile as she walked over to his bed and began to straighten out his pillows and sheets. “That’s alright by me. I know you’re not a morning person. You remind me of my husband. He doesn’t speak to anyone until it’s after lunch and he’s had at least four cups of coffee.” She laughed, more to herself than with him, and carried on with her business.
Harold’s lips parted to protest and a small scowl formed on his forehead. He wanted to tell her that the mornings were his favourite time of day. He wanted to tell her that when he first woke up, he was reflective. He was as optimistic as he was going to be for at least another twenty-four hours. He wanted to share memories of him and Thea drinking cups of tea in their conservatory, the two of them watching the sun slowly rise before their children woke up and demanded their attention. But before he let himself slip, he pressed his lips back together and continued to stare down at those ridiculously prominent veins on his hands.
The nurse moved closer, and without looking up, Harold knew it was time for his daily medication. The bottle of pills rattled in her hand as she unscrewed the cap and placed his dose on the small table in front of him. Then she quickly made her way to the bathroom to get him a half-filled glass of water before she returned and held the drink out in front of him.
His hand shook as he reached up, but she was patient as she waited for him to gain the strength he needed to lift the pills and the water to his mouth. They stuck in his throat like sandy rocks, but he didn’t flinch or show her his discomfort. Once he had finished, Harold looked up at her through wide, helpless eyes and waited for her to say what they always said.
Her soft smile turned into a bright grin as she took the glass from him and tilted her head to the side. “You’re doing well, Harold. You’re doing really well.”
With that, she took off out of the room, reminding him before she left that he only needed to call for them if he required help.
Once the silence surrounded him again, he turned his head to look at the other fascination in his life.
Thea was there. She was always there. Sitting opposite him with a smile on her ghostly face, her eyes alive with that twinkle she had always reserved for him and him alone. He saw her every day. He felt her every second. But he never let anyone know. It terrified him that they might make him take more pills to stop the hallucinations, and Harold knew that if they took his Thea away from him ever again, he wouldn’t have the strength to live for another moment longer.
She was beautiful as she sat quietly in front of him. The Thea that visited him these days was younger than he was – young enough to be his daughter. Her rich, red hair was in thick, bouncy curls, and she was wearing that lovely light blue dress that fell just below her knees and hugged her waist. It was the outfit she’d worn on one of their very first dates and had always been a favourite of his.
She never spoke. He wasn’t even sure that she could, but he loved the fact that she listened so intently, her unspoken words somehow guiding him through the last days of his life.
Allowing himself to smile for the first time that morning, relieved that he could keep his promise for another day – the promise of always giving his best smiles to her until the day he died – Harold blew out a shaky breath and spoke quietly.
“They say I’m doing well, Thea,” he began, his fingers curling into his palms as he felt the rush of blood surge through his cold veins. “But they don’t know how ready I am to be with you now.”
Thea blinked slowly, her smile never fading as she gave him a small, sympathetic nod of her head.
“They say I’m doing well,” he repeated in a whisper. “But I think deep down, they must know that I’m not.”
His wife’s head fell to the side as she stared into his eyes, unleashing her magic on him just like she had done all those years ago.
Harold wished he could rush over there, sweep her up into his arms and press his lips against hers. He wished he could drop her down on the bed, curl around her small, familiar body and fall asleep with her in his arms. He wished he could hear her laugh, or even her cry, just one more time.
He wished and he wished and he wished and he wished until wishing became breathing and breathing became painful once again.
“Get your dancing shoes ready, my darling,” he croaked in another whisper. “When I meet you in heaven, we’re never sitting down again. We’re going to dance for eternity.”
Then he smiled brightly as Thea’s eyes lit up with excitement, and before he knew it, he was laughing that charming laugh he used to own forty years ago, and his wife’s cheeks were blushing, despite their lack of warmth.
Harold’s grandpa had been right all those years ago. His veins were full to the brim now, and that was why they were sat proudly under his skin. He had so many memories… so much love, so much light, so much happiness, it was only a matter of time now before they burst on him.
And he found that, despite his fears, he couldn’t wait for that to happen after all.
Amelia J Hunter
Andie M Long
Claire C Riley
David E Gordon
Sarah Michelle Lynch
T A McKay
Victoria L James
They Say I’m Doing Well is a collection of blogs about overall mental health. Twenty-nine authors came together, uniting in the hope of discussing matters often brushed under the carpet. From poetry to short stories, first-hand experiences to monologues and matters of the heart, this book aims to reassure others they are not alone. Words have the power to change lives; to educate and nurture, to help bring people together. The authors have put their hearts and souls into this project.