I wrote down what I wanted to say because I knew it would get lost once opinions and information flew around the room and because if it was written down I would have to speak it, a promise to myself.
My head was in my phone as I waited to be called out of the pink glow of the waiting room. I read and checked and double checked what I wanted to say even though I had it committed to memory word for word and bullet point by bullet point.
I have lived with this for nearly two years. I have spent every day trying, just trying. I know where the illness ends and I begin even when it takes over and the only bit of myself left is hovering above my prone body, floating to the ceiling and looking down on what I look like when it threatens to take me over.
I talk myself through panic attacks and guilt and the impulses to drag something cold and deliciously sharp across my hot, soft skin. I understand. How could I not after more than twenty months of trying?
I do want help I really do. I want support and guidance and someone who can coax me back out of my shell and stand close as I pick myself up, battered and bruised but with all my thoughts ordered, rationalised.
I have my own coping mechanisms and they are why and how I have come through all these months without a single physical scar, they are the reason I managed to avoid hospital and avoid worse.
What I want now, what I need, is to go back to the beginning and actually say out loud all the things that I never did at the time. I need the distance that verbalising things gives, I need to say the words and hear myself as I do. I need someone to help me understand them so that I can learn that it’s ok and this is why and maybe next time…
Suddenly a hand is being proffered in introduction and I rise and the fake leather cushion creaks and squeaks as it expands back into shape as I am lead into the windowless room with the forms and the tissues. There’s always tissues. I never cry.
I settle into the chair against the back wall. It’s blue and it’s scratchy and one of the front legs is loose. I kick it idly with my heel while my psychologist clicks her mouse until my details fill the screen. I peer out of the corner of my eye and try to read what it says.
June. It was June when I first made the call? I count the months in time with the thud of my Converse on metal.
The leg moves half an inch and I grip the seat to steady myself. Feet firmly on the carpet I register that it has taken four months to get to this point.
I look at my palms and I think while eyes locked on her monitor the psychologist scrolls and scrolls and outside a car drives past and crunches into gear. I have appointment palms, pink and hot and covered in the sheen of my own sweat that tries to compensate for my dry mouth when I feel under pressure to say the right things.
I go over and over my bullet points in my head until I can see them so clearly it’s as if they’re scrawled in ink down my fingers. And then I realise something. Suddenly it’s really obvious when I feel the most shit. The times when I’m a bit slower to pick myself back up again, a bit more anxious than usual.
It’s the constant asking and begging and pleading for help. I have asked and asked and asked but every time, every single time, I have been put on hold or redirected or turned down or overruled.
And it kills me.
Harder than almost anything else is siting in a box like room sharing stale air across a table with a stranger who has boxes to tick and risks to assess and I just don’t quite fit and they just don’t quite understand.
Because its not just about boxes as ticks and scores and totals and whatever the preferred method of treatment is in that given month. It’s personal and varied and emotional and there isn’t anywhere on the forms for that.
I have to answer whether I think people would be better off without me, whether I’d be better of dead.
I answer honestly. I answer yes.
Do I know how I would do it?
No. I have no plan that I would follow or processes in place. It’s not like that for me and as much as I think I’m not worthy to be a mother sometimes I would never ever take myself out of my childs life, just like that.
But these two boxes don’t tally. If you have thoughts then you must have plans because that’s what the official form says and I guess training doesn’t cover any what ifs outside of that. Grown ups shouldn’t colour outside the lines. I try to explain but it comes out jumbled because frankly I find discussing the fact that sometimes it hurts so much that I want to die is pretty…ugh.
I explain how I have made it this far. I explain the revelation that came to me. Is it a revelation? I ask. In a room lit by strip lights and filled with the buzz of a 1990s computer and the stare of this woman who is there only to judge exactly how broken I am my conviction feels just as likely to collapse underneath me as my chair.
When I was pregnant I had everything that I ever wanted; a husband who is gorgeous has a wicked smile, brilliant sense of humour and kisses that make me melt, a baby in my belly, a lovely house in a lovely town, Cath Kidson wallpaper, two cats…everything.
And then there was all of that and a baby and that should have (could have?) just been the most amazing thing in the world. I had it all, the girl with everything.
Only my hormones went a bit mental and sent me a bit mental and made me think that I didn’t love my own baby and that I was going to throw her down the stairs and drown myself in the bath.
Every night for the first twelve weeks of her life as she lay on the husbands chest and learned to hold her tiny new head a little bit steadier on her neck or flex her little pink fingers around the corner of the blanket that cocooned her against her daddy I lay in a hot lavender oil bath. A bath I had been told to have daily by the midwives to help me heal after the birth, a bath that the husband made sure that I had because it was doctors orders.
A bath that I would sob into, hot tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing into the water that lapped at my chin.
I would lay there for a long time just staring at the tiles on the wall opposite me while my skin reddened and wrinkled and life carried on outside the locked door. If the baby cried I turned the taps on so that I couldn’t hear. I would slide down the smooth plastic behind my back until I was submerged, looking up at the blurred ceiling from underneath rippling water.
I didn’t want to come up. I had to stay there.
And then there would be a noise or movement or something and time suddenly sped up and I pushed my way up to air and coughed and gasped and took hungry lungfuls of steam filled air and pushed the hair from my face. What the fuck? I don’t want this. I have to get out of here. I rip the plug out on its chain and clamber over the edge of the bath dripping all over the floor and my discarded clothes and some magazines and a forgotten dummy. I rub my hair aggressively with a towel before hanging it across my shoulders so that I can pick my way across the floor and click open the lock. I can’t be here. I have to go.
I leave wet footprints behind me all the way up the stairs in my hurry to get dry and shake the feeling that’s hanging over me. A feeling and a pressure and something outside of me, bigger than me, telling me I should have stayed under water.
Five minutes later, avoiding the damp shadow of my hurried path up, I walk shakily down stairs and into my family asleep on the sofa. The room smells of baby and the husband and the congratulations on your beautiful little girl flowers. I stand leaning against the door frame and watch the rise and fall of their chests in the half light, listen to their snuffled sleep sighs. I feel jealous. Empty. Nothing.
But I’m ok. They’re ok.
I had everything but something had made it sour, made me ill.
And now? Now we have a council house that is still unsafe after more than nine weeks of graft, debt, no job so no income…we lost it all but we are finding each other. Which is such a fucking cliche it makes me itch but its true.
I have a husband who has been my rock and we have a daughter who does love me and who I do love back.
When I was well and life was lovely and wrapped in Cath Kidston print and money and ease I was fine and then I wasn’t. But now look at all that has happened in the time since. The husband left his job, we lost our home and our money and our cats. He lost his wife and she lost herself. We left the lovely town and we fought and battled for housing until we got a total dive…
But we made it though. I made it through. Just how strong must I be to have done all of that while I was empty and shattered and broken and our world was falling apart?
She’s not taking notes anymore, her pen rests in the spine of the notebook and her head rests on her hand. She blinks. I take a breath and shuffle in my seat. I’ve more than said my piece.
Five slow seconds tick by. A dog barks outside. Someone comes and goes in the room next door. The screensaver starts up on the computer (it’s the fish one).
She ticks another box.
‘In our meeting we decided that something called behavioural activation would be best for you. It’s the step below CBT if you like. It’s all about getting you back into doing things slowly by planning on a time table. For example, on Monday you could try to wash up. That would do for a week. And then I will call you in two weeks and we can discuss your readiness to move towards more tasks until you’re functioning normally…’
Are you joking? How…wha…How can a timetable and chores see me beat this?
She carries on. In that room I managed to say more than I planned to and I saw it all more clearly than I ever have before.
Isn’t that more important than continuing the battle for some counselling? All I want is some counselling.
I washed up on Monday night. And then I cuddled my baby and tickled her to make her laugh so she would curl up with delight and nestle in tighter to my chest so I could bury my nose in her hair and smell her smell. I promised the husband that I can do this and we’ll be ok and I’ll be ok while I wrapped my fingers around his and rested my head on his shoulder.
Everything will be ok. It’s my family that will continue to see me through, nothing else.