As I begin this, pregnant with final academic essay plans and surviving off one venti consumerccino at 1:08 a.m., I realise it is April 26th. It has been two years and seven months to the month that I left home, two years and seven months to the week that I started university, and two years and seven months to the day since one of the most difficult periods of my life began.
I do not like to think I am a complainer. This thought began when I was seventeen, when I was anchored to one bus stop after the other. Waiting for the next 632 or N10 to take me back or forth from home, to college, from home, to college. It was a strange and dull time. But I liked to think I could be that woman in the ‘We Can Do It!’ poster, rolling up her sleeves, staring at the onlooker, telling them I can get the job done. After wading about in this period of my life, I knew everything was about to change. From Somerset to London. From 1,000 fellow students to 9,000. From a snail’s pace to lightning. You get the picture. I refer to this change because it was the slingshot that catapulted me into something so completely different that I could not handle it.
It began with a man, as it often does. It ended with me, again, as it often does. But I am not a complainer. One sullen September afternoon, at 4:28 at Egham station, I bought a standard ticket to London Waterloo. It was my first trip into London since I was a child. I did not feel any more clued-up than I did when I was six. It was to meet said man, with whom I had spoken almost every night for the previous two months. 11pm – 5am. It was like meeting a lost friend. To someone who was conditioned with village life, this was Mecca. This was paradise. To sit in London – the big smoke – with a bottle of wine, city lights and someone that I was pretty certain I would love was, well. A big deal. It hadn’t occurred to me, in the eighteen years of relationship-lessness prior that people do not invest so easily in others as I do.
It is only appropriate to cut the story here.
* * *
April 2013. It is unseasonably warm (as England is, every time we hit double-digit temperatures). I am standing on a road adjacent to a hospital, in which I have an appointment in 15 minutes time. I begin texting:
‘Hey. Can I ask you something?’
‘Sure. Sorry I didn’t get to see you before uni ended, btw. How are you?’
‘Oh, no worries. There’s always September. And I’m surviving. How are you?’
‘Good, good. Just pissed off with my writer. He doesn’t like it when I want changes.’
‘Ah, well. Nobody wants to admit their work is shit. How’s the film otherwise?’
He replies. I leave it with him. I have successfully avoided asking my question, after deciding that I would not be happy with any answer, and I wander up the long, uphill road to the hospital.
This is the moment I am diagnosed with unipolar disorder (which, I think, sounds much flashier than ‘major depression’. ‘Major depression’ sounds like what a teenager would claim they feel when their parents don’t allow them to go to an Avril Lavigne concert). I am then diagnosed with a large side order of post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Don’t veterans get PTSD?’
‘Oh, yes. This is a bit different.’
‘Yes. I haven’t been to war.’
I might have been diagnosed with two separate disorders, but in situations like this, I am prone to avoiding the difficult topics. I mostly tend to say stupid things and hope to get a smile back. It did not work with this particular doctor. I think it was because he was a month away from retirement, and didn’t give as many fucks as I had disorders. Unless you’ve experienced the truly unique slog that is mental illness, it’s hard to empathise with it, I think.
* * *
The months leading up to that appointment were cocktails of anxieties, locking myself in a dark room and long, slow, sleepless nights. Every knock at my door felt like a Rottweiler barking and bashing at the door, trying to break its way in. Being required to leave my room felt like conscription, and when I stepped outside the door, I would pave the way to my end. Every word was a gunshot. Every noise, a bomb siren. And if it was raining, hell, was it pouring.
I had fantasised about going to this person’s road late at night, and staring at their house for any sort of sign that they might be alive. And even though I was removed from their life, I would know that because we existed under the same sky, we couldn’t be so far apart. I followed every update, every word, every photograph they posted – just to make sure they were alive. I can see myself standing back from this situation and branding myself a stalker and a psychopath – but I wasn’t either. I can’t find it in myself to call someone who cares so much – too much – and so very deeply about another creature, a psychopath. I don’t buy that. I don’t think it can be right.
Me and this person argued, once, about addiction. I didn’t understand why they smoked, and how they couldn’t just quit, and they said I’d never been addicted to anything, so I had no idea. And they were right. But the irony is in the retrospection. Relationship addiction is a thing. I think it intertwined with my illness. The idea of this person became like a crutch to me, but instead of a broken leg, my heart and my brain felt like they were malfunctioning. I couldn’t continue to exist without the support I drew from them. I don’t think I mistook dependence for love. I think I loved that for once I could be dependent on someone else.
April is the cruellest month. Every second had ticked in my head since we were apart. I saw their name everywhere. I walked through places we had walked together, as though their ghost would somehow wean me back to life. Everything was drizzled in sunlight and so beautiful, but I couldn’t see the beauty in anything anymore. Before, I loved the sunlight, and how the branches of soft trees bobbed in the wind. I loved every plant and flower that dared bloom when the world was so uncertain. But what had once consoled me so vividly faded far from the afflictions of my mind, and I knew that I could not live through one more day. So I walked the long, winding road to the hospital.
I am sensible and cautious. I knew I was not well enough to carry on trying. I truly believe it is in the nature of the human being to learn to love, but it is not in their nature to always requite it. It is not fair for us to force these synthetic fictions on our lives; the ones that we learn from books and movies. What is fair is to talk about what we truly feel, and to talk about mental illnesses, however scared we might be of facing them. It is fair to expose ourselves to the world around us and not to be judged, or hurt. It is fair to ourselves to recognise that everything we love, may one day be lost. All we can do is try to tread on; step, by step, by step, and exist in the best possible way that we know how.
Writer, musician, mess. A twenty-one year old graduate from the University of London, Tim completed his dissertation on animal ethics and feminist theory, which is interesting to nobody but himself. He now lives in the dodgy part of Lewisham and works as a freelance writer and contributor for Sky News.
To hear more from Tim you can follow him on Twitter here: @BetterThanToday.
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