Mint

“How are you, Cassandra? How can I help you today?” she says while looking at the screen as I sit on the orange padded chair I wonder if there’s any point in going through with this well rehearsed ordeal again and briefly flirt with the idea of heading straight out of the door.

“Erm, I just need some more pills. Please.”

“This is for your depression? How are you getting on with that?”

Yep. Fail. I should have left while I still had a chance.

I’m in the most excruciating pain you can imagine and soul crushingly numb simultaneously. I feel as if I’m floating and made completely of stone all at once. I’m wishing for nothing else but for someone to give me the permission to just not exist for a little while. I want to scream every single word polluting my thoughts and am not able to say a single word. I want to find comfort in anything I can to only discover that I’m not worth it anyway. They keep telling me that I need to fight and I don’t have any left. They keep saying that this doesn’t define me when I know nothing but. The shame of my child seeing the cuts and asking me what they are with fear in his eyes is haunting me by the minute. It’s the constant headache and shakes and ticks. It’s wanting to destroy everything I love because I don’t deserve to keep any of it. It’s ignoring the texts and emails and voicemails, because what’s the point? It’s collapsing on the floor and repeatedly banging my head until I pass out from pain and tears. It’s crying so hard that I’m sick and that I can’t remember why I started. It’s wishing I didn’t have to keep going and knowing that I can’t do anything to stop.

Obvs I can’t actually say any of that stuff out loud. I give a noncommittal shrug, “Not good.”

She looks at me blankly before scrolling through endless notes on the screen. I see words I don’t understand flash past and I desperately try to remember them, they feel important. I wonder if it’d be inappropriate to get my phone out to take a photo.

  • Dysthymia disorder.
  • Refusal to take antipsychotics.
  • Major depressive disorder.
  • Suicidal.
  • Self harm.

Dysthymia. Dysthymia. Dysthymia. Dysthymia… I think again and again so I can Google it when I finally get home. There’s mention of a drug called Minta-something too. I imagine a box of mint green capsules that taste like Tic Tacs.

She asks more questions, I have no idea what, and makes more scribbly notes on some headed paper, I begin to forget where I am and think to myself that she has nice nails. She mumbles something at me before hurriedly leaving the room.

Oh.

This is it, I think. This is when they make that phone call and take me away somewhere.

It should strike me as very wrong when I begin to question if there’s anything in the room I can hurt myself with but of course it doesn’t. Faced with boxes of sample bottles and wooden tongue depressors. Maybe I could break one? Or jab one in my eye really hard?

The tick carries on where it left off just as I was leaving home, sending my head back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I have the urge to leave to see if anyone notices.

Fifteen more painful minutes lapse before she returns.

“Are you able to cope with your son?”

I stare at her drunkly. My head shouts YES. NO. YES. NO and all I’m able to do is shrug.

“Would you like me to contact Social Services?”

“No.”

“They might be able to just – ,”

“No.”

“OK, if you have any thoughts to harm yourself you must come straight back.”

“But I have those thoughts right now – you’re still going to let me leave in thirty seconds, aren’t you?”

She looks at me seriously and wheels her chair a little too close, “I’ll see you again in two weeks, Cassandra.”

 

Divine Intervention

There’s an overwhelming sense that I’ve been here before, dozens of times if not more, I’ve thought the same things, answered the same questions, ignored the same phone calls and written the same words, again and again and again.

With the same certainty as the seasons changing or the phases of the moon; hopeless, veins full of paralysing indifference and a stomach weighed down with nightmarish despair to at least being able to pretend it’s OK, to smile and laugh and fool myself into thinking that it won’t return. Refusing to see the footprints, the whispers of unease, the moments that can’t be shrugged off as just feeling tired or hormonal.

And bam.

It’s back.

The next episode, bigger and better than ever before with Dolby surround sound and special FX. I watch it unfold in third person, unable to control what happens next and what’s said. I know the script from memory, but I’m not delivering the lines. Something else is, it’s running away from them, it’s ad-libbing with reckless abandon and all I can do is watch from the back on the cinema and scream for it to stop.

Frozen by thoughts of where I’d stab myself in the wrist. Would it even matter where? And what would I use? I know it won’t happen, I know we’ll cut to another scene before it gets that far, I’ll be sat in another waiting room, somewhere, desperately trying to remember how to behave in public and whether I’ve been taking those fat chalky pills. But I’m stuck, somewhere between here and there and all I can do is gaze at the three blue veins visible beneath the skin, two darker and one a shade of turquoise I’m sure would be called Summer Skies or some such bollocks on a Dulux paint chart.

Maybe I should Google it.

Where to do it, not the colour, obvs.

My mind wanders to the kitchen cupboard, full of pills, of his pain medication and I find myself curiously thinking how many I’d have to swallow before this pain goes away.

All the while the phone rings, another voicemail flashes on the screen and I wait. I wait for something to happen, for someone to step in and take me somewhere I’ve not been before because I don’t know how many more times I can watch the same episode and hear the same words delivered with the same tone of urgency and pity and “It’ll be OK, I promise.”

And while I wait, the screen fades to black.

The One Where You Realise All Parents Are Dicks

Now first things first, don’t take it personally, I’m not calling you a dick.

OK, I am. But it’s OK, because to you, I’m a dick too.

We’re all dicks.

I spent this afternoon in a building the size of an aircraft hanger in the arse end of fucking nowhere rather dubiously named the Fun Factory for a birthday party. Which is fine, as long as you class the Hunger Games for under 10’s with added hysteria, plenty of padded foam so the little ones can give each other frontal lobe damage with and ridiculously marked up refreshments as erm, fun.

May the odds be ever in your favour, kiddo.

Yeah, it’s a soft play nightmare. Run by teenage staff that send daggers into your very soul while they serve you a thimbleful of shady latte that costs over two quid and you decide it’s probably wise to not ask whether they have any contraband booze under the counter.

There’s a vast seated area where spectators parents can sit and watch pandemonium unfold and judge whether their kid is winning or not. Occasionally throwing them a towel to mop up the sweat and / or blood, a drink that’s so brightly coloured it’s verging on neon and despite the advertisements, no piece of real fruit has ever been anywhere near. A quick shoulder rub, some fight talk whispered in their ear before slinging the little ones back in so they can get back to discussing the parking at Waitrose and complain that the Easter holidays are coming too quickly.

And that’s when the realisation crashes down around me.

All parents are dicks.

The parents of the birthday boy are dicks, as lovely as they are, because why, why would you spend hundreds and hundreds of actual British pounds on this hell on earth. Where you get unlimited jugs of squash for free and a visit from Leo the Lion, the shoddy soft play mascot, is just an added extra of £9.99! Yep. They’re dicks.

The dad who’s chosen to throw himself into the pit of fury with an army of ragamuffins trailing behind him, secretly plotting his demise, who keeps shouting from the netted tower – “Ange! Ange! ANGIE! LOOK!” while he displays his I’m fucking mental, me! inane grin while army crawling through a series of padded tunnels. He’s a dick.

The crowd of middle class parents, full of hopeless enthusiasm, “Now, children, I know this isn’t like Centre Parcs but let’s try to have fun, shall we?” Dicks.

You my friend, over there, yes you, you’re a dick for naming your spawn that with absolutely no sense of irony.

The lady over there is a dick because she ordered cheesy chips and granted they probably cost her a fiver in this place but now I can’t order cheesy chips without the awkward “HAH! Oh I know! Yours just looked SO GOOD – I couldn’t resist!” *insert tragic nervous laugh* And if anything sullies a cheesy chip, it’s the sense that an entire table of adults who have nothing better to do are watching your every move. Dicks.

The mother who keeps trying to engage me in conversation to damn our kid’s teacher and form some kind of parental mutiny against her. Mega dick.

And the worst bit?

Realising I’ll be the almighty dick in three months when Bean breaks me down into handing over hundreds and hundreds of pounds for his birthday party in the house of all evil for two hours of screaming, florescent lighting and as much free squash as he can bloody well fit in his face.

 

If You’re Still Here

Dear Cas,

I don’t know how else to write this, because it’s just not something I can dress up with clever words and descriptive imagery, it’s just what it is. I get through the endless seconds and minutes by thinking to myself that it won’t be forever. I’m not referring to the current tantrum being thrown before me, or the rain, or the shit day that stretches in front of me all the way to the horizon and beyond. I mean this. Being here.

The thought of just thinking about it is too much, because it quickly turns into a ferocious whirlpool of it won’t be forever, I don’t want to be here, fuck – that’s so messed up, I know – but I don’t know how else to cope, I really don’t, you need help – seriously, I know I do – but how? My ribcage tightens. My head floats and floats until all I can do is stare and remember to breathe occasionally. My body begins to shake violently as I swim through a haze of shame and anger. Anger at myself. At all this time wasted and lost and totally gone forever, and all I have left is blurred memories where everything merges into one mass of chaos.

A monochrome painting, still wet to the touch on canvas, shaking hands, smearing the brushstrokes, until the black and white dissolves to grey.

I’m writing this because, well because unless I sit here and pretend you’re a real person, alive and reading this in 25 years, I can’t imagine how I’ll ever get there, to where you are now. I cannot picture the future. It’s just not there. I can’t commit to anything. An outburst, a breakdown, an attack or a bog standard world ending moment, can happen in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, and rather inconveniently, I cannot see them coming and they knock me sideways as much as anyone else unlucky enough to witness me crumbling into something I just don’t know or understand.

The other stuff that should be grounding me, making me see, giving me that purpose, that fight, just isn’t. It isn’t working. I wish every single day that they made me want to stay, more than anything else. But they don’t.

It’s perpetually behind me, right on top of me, whenever I have a moment of OKness, it’s hovering, telling me I’m being fake, that I’m mimicking how I think I should behave. That the words that come out of my mouth and through my fingers don’t mean anything more than what drifts through my head – absolutely nothing. It tells me that what I do or don’t do today doesn’t matter either way and that it won’t be forever.

And I need something, anything to believe that I’ll eventually be where you are now, in 25 years, hopefully with enough fortitude to read this and realise how far you’ve come because nothing else is working and I’m so tired of this constant carousel of making progress only to realise that not a single thing has changed at all. The meds, the talking and the nodding along to everything that they’re all saying to me.

So ya know, if you’re still here all the way in the future, a little sign would be good. A space postcard made from stardust or whatever you lot are using in 2039 would be good. Or a pet unicorn. Just something.

Your 26 year old self,

Cas

She’s Hearing Voices

I shrink into the corner, next to the wall smothered in posters for local support groups, emergency telephone numbers, notices, “If you’re waiting longer than 15 minutes for your appointment, please let the reception staff know.” I check my phone – twenty two minutes, and place it back into my pocket without any intention of getting up or telling anyone.

My hands are shaking violently. I can sense the woman a few chairs away watching me, I stare at the floor hard, really hard and try to disappear. A man is at the reception shouting at the staff. He’s upset and threatening to do something if they refuse him to see someone. Out in the lobby area, someone else is shouting into their phone. The claustrophobic waiting area fills up with even more people, full of questions and names, clinging onto tattered letters as if their lives depend on it and I can’t breathe.

The man shouts again. Slamming his bag to the floor. Punching the Perspex partition that separates us from them.

A baby cries somewhere.

It sounds like Noah.

The woman in the lobby swears into her phone, growing louder as the door between us swings open.

People walk around in the lobby, without any idea of where to go or how they got here in the first place.

A man appears at the door. He looks around the waiting room in chaos as if it’s completely normal. He searches the faces.

“Cassandra?” he says to the room, directing it to no one.

I stand and follow him to the door. He walks and I follow through halls full of locked doors. My heart begins to hammer against my ribs and a sense of hopelessness fills me as we trudge deeper and deeper into this labyrinth of closed doors. No natural light reaches the corridors, the mock Andy Warhol prints dotted along the walls, bold colours, child-like shapes and squiggles completely out of place on the dead, grey walls.

Like a bright red ball gown at a funeral.

Footsteps.

We reach a door, he unlocks it and we walk in.

“Take a seat,” he says.

I perch at the edge of the chair closest to the door.

Fight or flight. Fight or flight. Fight or flight.

“Please, make yourself comfortable.” he laughs, sitting back in a way that I should copy him.

“I’m fine.” I say, staring at the door.

We begin the well-trodden routine of questions and one-word answers. All I can think is that I’m sat in a room I don’t know how to get to the outside from, the man I don’t know asks me personal questions, I don’t know his name. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Or what the end point is.

“Are you ever happy?”

“No.”

“Do you have highs and lows?”

“No.”

“Do you think of harming yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Have you?”

“Yes.”

“Show me.”

“No.”

It continues. For an eternity. I keep staring at the door. My hands keep shaking.

He asks if there are any significant life events from my childhood. I look at him for the first time.

“Well?”

“It should all be in my notes.” I point at the stack of papers in front of him on the desk.

“Yes, I know, but it’s better if I can hear it in your own words.” he laughs. Again.

I shake my head and then the tears start.

“OK, you don’t have to.” he looks scared. I gaze at the door again.

I tune out while he talks about what we do next. How they’re going to fix me. Where he’s referring me to. Who’s going to call me. I don’t allow myself to listen as I’ve heard it all before. I pinch my hand to stop the tears, to concentrate on something.

“What we can do is give you an anti-psychotic to take with your anti-depressants.”

“What?”

“It should give you a high, so you’re not so low. Do you want to give them a try?”

“No.”

“… OK. So we’ll continue with what you’re on for six more weeks?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. And I’ll see you again in six weeks, I’ll send you a letter confirming the appointment.”

“OK.”

He offers his hand for me to shake and I ignore it.

Eventually we’re back in the corridor, he’s leading me to the exit, away from the locked doors.

Footsteps.

He says goodbye and I duck past him, desperate to see sunlight again. I can’t breathe.

My feet carry me through the maze of doors, the stairwells, the figures standing around.

The walls caving in, they talk to me as I dash past. Echoes of voices. Shouting. Babies crying. My lungs feel ready to explode as I reach the final door to the exit. Cold air rushes over me. Greying sunlight. The voices stop midsentence as the automatic doors close behind me.

 

Social Media Pariah

  • Firstly, to be at all popular on social media, you must clone yourself. Mm hmm. Yes. You absolutely need at least two of you to make this online presence shit at all possible. One of you chained to the laptop / phone / iPad doing all the geekery and the other, complete with SLR in hand, like, doing stuff to actually talk about. Then take serene photos that you can edit and make the whole of Pinterest weep at your superior creative skillz.
  • Talk. Talk talk talk. If you can’t think of anything hilariously witty or profound to say, and your funny photos of cats with captions stockpile has been decimated – talk to other folk innit. Make little online relationships, no, not those relationships, unless you’re into all that, and take revealing selfies and take part in #tittytuesday. This is totally going all wrong here, MAKE FRIENDS, that’s all I mean. Christ.
  • Keep poo talk to a minimum. I personally enjoy a bit of a poo talk, I think working in a pub, owning a managerie of animals and most importantly, a small child, has totally desensitised me to poo. I find it amusing when my kid announces proudly that he has “DONE A NUMBER 2!” to discover that yes, he’s done a poo in the toilet – BUT OMFG LOOK, IT’S IN THE SHAPE OF AN ACTUAL NUMBER 2! GENIUS! Others might not like this, tread with poo carefully, both literally and metaphorically. At least try to refrain from Instagramming it.
  • Be self deprecating. Post photos of yourself looking like shit. But not in the highly annoying actually I look fine but I’ll say I don’t so people say I do mind fuckery bollocks. No. In a proper, IKR? I totes look like Dot Cotton after a bender at 6am. People like to be able to relate to your down-to-earthiness.

tweet tweet

  • Have no shame. None. Zero. And then on top of that, have no shame for your loved ones either. Did they do something utterly cringe? Put that shit on Facebook. Preferably with a photo. Or a collage of photos. Find some selfies taken by your kid on your phone? That’s going straight to Twitter. Accidently flash the postman? Go out with yesterday’s pants stuck to your jeans? What? It happens, don’t judge me. You get the idea. Confess all in a “Forgive me Father Twitter, for I have sinned, it has been one hour and thirty seven minutes and five retweets since my last confession…”
  • Hashtag the fuck out of everything. This makes you look proper profesh and as if you really know what you’re doing. Sod it – speak solely in hashtags. Make the most of those 140 characters and just use no spaces. Efficient, right?
  • Multi-task. You have to possess the ability to tweet thoughtful witticisms whilst watching that must-see episode of Bake Off / Sherlock / X Factor as it happens. You can go deeper and do the same with Question Time et al, but you must also have balls of steel for that trick.
  • And finally, never ever take any notice of stupid lists on the internet that tell you how to be a success on social media. Just be yourself. If that doesn’t work, fake that shit.

All the Small Things

The year hasn’t quite started out as “Whoot! 2014 is OUR year, I tell ya, OUR YEAR!” or “We’re gonna DO IT this year!” as I’d hoped. Not a single whiff of a Dry January, a limp resolution to get the hella on it and Get. Shit. Done or even the hollow promise to abdicate chocolate.

Nope. There’s been five days out of the past fourteen where I’ve only been able to lie in bed and stare listlessly at bare walls. Another increase in meds and urgent whispers about hospitals overheard. A run in with a Stanley knife and a gazillion garbled words written in my head about how I ruin everything.

It was all starting to look a tiny bit bleak tbh.

Until I cried it all out and remembered something my therapist said to me forever ago, a reminder to bring me back. A challenge of sorts, I ‘spose, and guess what?

I’m gonna ask you to join me.

badgeatst

Sometimes it only takes something small, something tiny, to bring you up to the surface again, even if it’s just for a second. When you’re in the middle of a decidedly shit spell, a kind word said, a murmur of a memory, a scent of nostalgia can be all that’s needed to make you feel present for a fleeting moment.

Right now, I’m clinging onto the need to search out the good things by my fingernails. The small things. But it is helping. Every Tuesday from next week you’ll be able to pop over and link up your own personal little lifesaver, no matter how tiny it is or silly it seems to you, the sillier the better in my view. You don’t have to have a mental illness, you don’t have to be a parent, I wanted to start a linky-dooby-doo that included both quite comfortably.

So if you’re lost in the midst of the dark stuff, sleep deprived and bordering on mania, or you’re just having one of those days, try to find just one small thing that makes it feel not quite so bad this week and tell me about it. Interpret it whichever way you like, with a photo, a paragraph or a hunky dory haiku. And maybe in some small way, we can help each other out just a bit.

Whaddya say? See you next Tuesday?