For several months, each week, you’d sat across from me while I slowly unravelled myself before you, waiting patiently for me to expose my core. I hadn’t long been back in Manchester. Prior to the move I’d spent a hot, busy final summer in London working, travelling, seeing friends, falling in love. The end of my twenties. I was happy, euphoric even, in the throes of distraction and newfound freedom. What can be better than running away from your own demons at top speed? At that point my demons were bound so tightly within me that even I was oblivious. Being oblivious worked, it felt good.
Then I moved back to the old family house with no family there, to a part of Manchester miles away from anything and anyone. A temporary solution turned into a long, drawn-out descent. It wasn’t my intention to fall apart, yet I enforced a particular type of isolation upon myself, cutting myself off, shutting myself down, and I quickly began to narrow my horizons so drastically that I lost all sense of who I was. In lieu of distraction, I resorted to involuntary dissociation, and the days and weeks began to blur into one while I drifted in a state of semi-consciousness.
Wake, eat, sleep. Attempt to do a bit of work. Occasionally leave the house to do a food shop, or run down the deserted Mersey trail, or go to my boyfriend’s house where I’d let the side down by exposing myself for exactly how mad I had become. And soon the dissociative states turned into broken states, and the broken states turned into wholly dysfunctional states. Flashbacks. Nightmares. Shakes. Daydreams of non-existence. Longing for death. Yes, just like that, I truly was mad. We went through my story enough times. We both know why.
This is how we were, you and me. Me in pieces, you composed. Over the following months the work we did during our meetings, along with specialised support services and medication, started to work. And then, abruptly, it stopped working, because you stopped living.
The morning I arrived for our regular weekly appointment, they sat me down and told me you’d died the day before, that they’d found your body themselves. No holds barred.
They introduced me to another (visibly shaken) therapist, M, who immediately stepped into your shoes without a second thought, and thank god she did, because out of the blue you’d gone and done the one thing I’d been dreaming of, the one thing I’d been desperately trying to avoid. And just like that, somehow, life went on. Therapy continued, because it had to, but it now came with the added undertaking of your suicide on top of all the things I’d previously been working through.
M had her work cut out for her yet I slowly, slowly got better. Within the year I miraculously came off medication, relearned how to trust, how to set boundaries, be happy, keep busy, feel pleasure. I remembered the importance of community and friendship, regained the ability to communicate with loved ones. I found work I loved, moved house. Having been unwell for so long, I eventually, thankfully, stopped spiralling and found balance. I became well.
This situation we’re in now, though – this situation where we’re all distancing from one another under lockdown – has led to a creeping sense of familiarity. As time passes I find myself returning to the old isolation house of my mind, reacquainting myself with those long, empty days.
Wake, eat, sleep. Occasional food shop. Occasional run, if I’m up to it. More often, I’m not. I frequently forget to use my voice unless I talk myself into a video call I don’t want to make but know will leave me feeling better afterwards. The silence surrounding these calls weighs heavily. This pattern of existence is almost identical to the one I put myself through at the height of my breakdown, yet this time I’m not allowed to do half the things I’d learned would help pull me back into the light whenever things were plummeting.
Staying indoors for days on end without seeing other people is just about the worst response, and it’s taking all my strength not to submit to the darker corners of my mind. Still, I’m better now. I remind myself daily that I’m fortunate to be healthy, to have a nice home and loved ones at the end of a phone call. I have nothing to worry about. I know, I know, that I will be ok, having been so unwell and come through the other side before. Still, déja vù does funny things to you, and those thoughts remain lodged somewhere deep inside.
The memory of your death keeps me living, R. That, along with the knowledge that, from experience, even in the depths of despair it’s possible to recover.
You could have recovered, I’m sure of it, yet this Good Friday marks exactly one year since you took your own life. You were 33. If only you’d heard the things they said about you at your funeral. Would it have changed your mind, to hear how loved you were, to know how acutely your loss would be felt? Would you have felt less alone if you’d seen how crowded the room was as people gathered to share your memory? I attended your service alone, which pained me, but I left with a clearer sense of who you were beyond the four walls we inhabited together, and for that I am glad.
I’m sorry that your pain was too great.
Rest in peace.