A few months after I took too many pills and woke up in hospital, I saw the counsellor. I can’t remember her actual job title. She was just some kind of halfway point between seeing a GP and seeing a mental health consultant; a lady with a clipboard who ticked boxes to see whether I was mental enough in the correct categories and could therefore be offered a chance to be diagnosed properly.
I have wondered if I’ve been a bit mean about her. I was feeling hostile and I was projecting hostility onto the world. Perhaps she said the thing about the cuts on my arms being ugly in a more kindly way than I suggested. You know, in a kind of motherly gesture: I don’t want you to regret this when you’re older. But I remember meeting her a few years before when I had to have an assessment and we never seemed to quite get comfortable with each other. I’m sure she was fine at dealing with textbook cases of depression but I kept trying to explain and she never quite listened properly because I wasn’t saying things that were on her little tick list. How often has your mood been low in the last week? I don’t feel anything. Low would be an improvement. Weird silence. No, but how often have you felt bad…
And then I also remember the later appointment, the one I’m talking about here where I’m clearly in a worse place, and her saying: ‘Well, I can tell you’re not too depressed because you’ve got nice make-up on.” and me thinking how bad she was at her job. She was very cold. So, while her precise words have faded from my memory, I’m still reasonably certain that she was just a shitty counsellor.
She asked me: When you took the overdose, did you want to die or just go to sleep for a long time? And I laughed, because I thought ‘You’ve just read that somewhere, in some article about why people try to kill themselves, and this is you trying to be understanding and knowledgeable.’ There was no curiosity in her question, it was as though she just took for granted that everyone who goes through a similar experience will perceive it in the same way.
Although I was curious as to what death looked like, I wasn’t actually ready for it. I just wanted to peek behind the curtain before my time was called, but I didn’t want to die right then. I don’t think I seriously thought I would. In fact, it was more of a very, very drastic attempt to save myself. I couldn’t continue, but I didn’t want to leave my body. I wanted to empty it, to purify it and start over. Fill it with good things, useful things. I didn’t want to hurt my body. I feel bad about my body because I’ve ruined it, the poor thing. Not that it was ever perfect, although I guess it is if you view it as a flawed canvas. It’s actually very dependable – it’s been through a lot and still somehow brushes itself off and carries on. It just patches itself up when I hurt it; it yawns at my cuts. I don’t know how it does it. It’s quite marvellous, actually.
Anyway, how long would you even need to sleep to recover from something traumatic? I could be asleep forever. That would be no good.
(I barely sleep. I hardly eat. I’m not doing so well.)
No, I was trying to kill myself. My self. My ego; my mind. My identity was so fragile and fractured that I was barely sentient, and versions of myself from earlier points in time were yelling at me from inside my own mind. The lights weren’t on, but everyone was home. It was a fucking nightmare. I needed them to leave. It was an eviction, not a suicide. Attempts at a mental breakthrough had simply not worked, I figured I’d harness physical power and purge my past selves out.
My worst hangover story is worse than your worst hangover story.
It didn’t work, but it shocked them into silence. Over time, I realised it might just be better to listen to what they’re trying to tell me. Pass their messages along.
I can’t bring myself to think too deeply about this, because it’s not a very nice thing to think about. It’s not entirely safe to dwell upon. I don’t even like noticing Samaritans signs on bridges – someone like me once walked past that sign, and either didn’t pay attention to it or they considered it and chose the other option. That someone could have been me.
I mourn for every single part of myself that has died inside me, just as I mourn the loved ones who have left me.
Maybe this is what I was talking to the counsellor about, because we started talking about my grandad and she made it pretty clear that I should have stopped being messed up by his death by that point. She said I had ‘complicated grief’ – I’d got stuck on one of the stages of grieving and couldn’t figure out where to go next. She didn’t actually offer me any advice, she just said that was what I had. I had to look it up myself.
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Where was I stuck? I have no idea. I feel like I didn’t go through any of them for a while, and then they all hit me at once. The place where I had gotten stuck was one where I couldn’t let go of my grief; the pain was the last feeling I was left with – I was terrified that if I got ‘over it’ then I wouldn’t have anything at all. My memories would fade and they would leave me alone forever. I didn’t want them to leave. Perhaps this was anger, directed at myself. You mustn’t forget this: you fucked everything else up.
(I hope you’re happy now.)
At some point in the month after I saw this woman, I went back to my doctor. I felt like I was losing control again, and I was starting to get scared for myself. Scared of myself. I asked him if he could get me locked away; I was no longer capable of managing my own life.
‘No,’ he said. ‘You’ll go mad in there and then they’ll never let you out.’