I see, I remember, I imagine

CW: Suicide

I see

Washing that has been hanging on the clothes horse for nine days. It speaks to my skill as a housekeeper – now that I live alone, only the barest minimum gets done. The dishes get rinsed, but they pile for three or four, or maybe five or six, days before I wash them. The floor that I lie on gets vacuumed perhaps once in a month.

Summery air flows around me, slowly turning cool with the evening darkness. The taste of Port Royal lingers in my mouth, a reminder of a habit I keep swearing I’ll break, until the next crisis comes along. I sigh, and roll another . . .

The air out on the porch is cooler, and the darkness wraps around me like good dark chocolate around a ripe strawberry. I smoke a slim cigarette, rolled deliberately thin to conserve tobacco. Taxes on tobacco are getting wildly out of hand, but still I keep the habit. The comfort of half a lifetime is hard to break.

I see the lights of the west of the city, stretching right back to the hills. The trig point on the top of the hills flashes red. On, off, on, off, I have no idea why. The men watching over me do not come out to accompany me. They both hate smoking equally. I don’t care much. It gives me space from their difficult and overpowering presences.

The men in my living room are a mass of past and present. They look quite alike, ten years apart, and are similar in many ways. One is my ex-husband. The other is the boy I’m sort-of-not-really seeing. They are both here for one reason only. To see that I live through the night. You see, I’m a suicidal wreck.

My ex-husband knows me well. He knows that he cannot sleep until I am asleep, because I will not be safe. The boy, not so much. He cares for me deeply, but he’s not got much of a grasp on what he’s putting himself in the middle of.

I finally wander back into the living room, to find them discussing politics and online voting. The boy is being thoroughly schooled by his elder. I try to stretch out on the floor and do a writing exercise, but I can’t stop the floods of memories. So I go back to my room and lie in the dark, and let the memories come.

I remember

Hours upon hours of men sitting in my lounge, drinking beer and discussing all sorts of things. The faces and the topics change, whirl, meld into one long string of regrets. These are all men I have cared about in some way, all gone from my life, mostly through poor choices in periods of unwellness on my part. I have been more a spectator in most of these discussions – I do have a bit of a shy streak in me. Plus, men tend to talk over me anyway.

Tears flood down my cheeks as I remember all the people who have passed through my life. I have loved so many of them so dearly, and they are all gone. Gone, because I’m so messed up. I make terrible decisions, I push good people away, and I lose everything. Over and over again. My bipolar disorder is a reason, but not an excuse. I have to take some responsibility.

I sob.

It takes the men a good ten minutes to notice that I’m gone, so absorbed are they in their discussion. There’s a moment of panic – not a long one though, as the apartment is so tiny that it takes all of thirty seconds to locate me. The boy sits on the bed beside me, momentarily at a loss, before wrapping his body around me. My ex-husband turns away.

“I’ll be in the living room if you need me”

The boy holds me until the flood of memories passes and the sobs still. It’s sweet of him, and the comfort is welcome. I turn to face him, kiss him, draw a deep breath, and return myself to calm. We return to the living room, and I calm myself further by rolling another cigarette. Pulling out the paper, wiggling the filter out of the little hole at the top of the bag, pinching out the bare minimum of tobacco, patting it into shape, rolling, placing the filter, licking the gum, rolling it all together, all the while concentrating only on this task and breathing steadily . . . peace returns to me.

Again I smoke, and again the men do not follow me, but I am included in their conversation this time as I stand close to the door. As the cigarette burns down, I realise that I am weary beyond belief. I have been holding this pose of being fine, being ok, being normal, for so long, and it’s starting to break down.

The boy and I tuck up in bed, but my ex-husband stays in the living room. I return to the living room a couple of times for various things, and in that time the boy falls asleep.

The pose breaks.

I don’t remember much. I remember sobbing, screaming, begging, over and over,

“Let me go. Let me die. Please”

To which, the answer was always,

“No.”

Eventually I take some lorazepam and fall asleep. I don’t know if my ex-husband slept at all that night.

The next night was similar, except that the boy was not present. I begged, I pleaded.

“Let me go”

Lorazepam gave me sleep again. My ex-husband sat on the bed and watched over me until the drugged sleep came to me.

The next morning, Thursday 2nd March, I was admitted to the ICU of the Auckland City Hospital psychiatric unit under Section 10 of the Mental Health Act 1992. I was transferred to the main psychiatric ward the next day, and I have been there ever since.

I imagine

Being free from here. I’m allowed leave now, two hours at a time out in the world, and I die a little inside every time I walk back through the doors of Te Whetu Tawera (the Maori name for the ward). I know that discharge is only a few days away now, maybe around a week or so, but my soul is being crushed. I cry every day in frustration, wanting my own things around me, my own bed, my own damn unvacuumed floor. Out there are many pressures, but at least I have some control over my life out there. In here is regimented and my soul is dying.

There are plenty of people that worry about me leaving this place and just killing myself. It’s not going to happen. I’m reminded every day how much I mean to people, and how much it would hurt them if I died, so I will continue on in spite of my problems, for everyone else. It’s not ideal reasoning, but I am not a selfish person and it’s enough to keep me alive until I find my own joy in living again – something that I’m never going to find inside the confines of Te Whetu Tawera.

 

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Memories and dreams

A tiny desk light sits recessed deep into the wall. So deep that it is pretty ineffectual, really. Thick plastic protects it. It is firmly bolted to the wall. The desk is scattered with unopened food packages, wordless gifts of caring people. Pringles, Ferrero Rocher, the good things in life, gifted to keep me going.

The walls are covered with fragments of blu-tack and tacky areas of glue that someone has attempted to peel off. Places where former residents have personalised their space. Not me. I don’t want it to be mine.

I hear the sounds of the city, the motorways and the train lines, but also the sparrows and the cicadas celebrating the end of summer. There is a peace here, stashed out the back of the hospital.

I am in Te Whetu Tawera, the Auckland DHB Adult Acute Mental Health Unit.

————————————————————————–

Rolling a cigarette at my table at home. It’s the little rituals you miss when you’re sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Smoking is prohibited on all hospital grounds, even psychiatric wards, and that is a rant for a whole new day. They break the routine and the rolling and the breathing and the release, but “poor health outcomes” trump all. Shortsighted? No, that’s the wrong word. They see the distance clearly, but the up-close reality is lost on them. What does lung cancer at 50 mean to people who on average live to about 32?

I rolled, relaxed, wandered out onto my balcony in the glorious evening sun, lit up, inhaled deeply. Bright and dark tobaccos, soaked in port, brought peace as I exhaled the geyser of spent smoke.

The sun set over the Waitakeres, shifting tones of orange and pink and lilac and violet and all the half-colours and tenuous shades in between. The ranges stained deep mauve against the shifting light as the sun sinks down.

All this I saw from my balcony, my sanctuary. It was a tiny apartment, it had black mold, there was no extractor fan in the bathroom, and it was mine. It was always a bit messy. I am not a clean freak, though I tried not to keep a complete pigsty.

Sweet lovers and dear friends passed through in their times, nourished by my renowned cooking. There was laughter and passion and comfort and joy.

I remember.

Depression is not forever.

————————————————————————–

I will walk through my front door, wrestling with the ridiculous Patient Property bags that they release you from the hospital with. The house will smell good – Mum always goes on a cleaning binge when I get sick, and cleans my apartment thoroughly.

They tend to let you out in the late morning, so I can watch the sun as it creeps across my living room. The arc of the sun’s path is altering from high summer to slower, slumbering autumn. The light slides slower, more sensually, with less scorching heat. I will lie on the freshly vacuumed carpet. I will roll around in pleasure. I can be free.

Depression is not forever.

 

Never again

Never again will I reach out. Next time I will just step out into the night. I’m too much fuss, too much bother. I’m too broken. I’m never getting better.

It’s just a matter of time before my beating heart catches up with my dead soul.

I want to die: a self-assessment

Is this a cry for help?

No. I want it to be over now. I’m done.

Why did you reach out?

I don’t know. Guilt? A last gasp of survival instinct? A sliver of hope?

What are you going to do now?

Live through today. Tonight is a different matter.

What do you need in order to keep going?

Things to look forward to. Little things to drag me through the day. A little long term hope.

What can people do to help?

Give me reasons for living. Make plans. Be there. Make me feel less alone. Reach out to me where I’m at, in the place where hopes and dreams have died, and give me real and concrete reasons for living. Not “I care about you”. “Let’s catch up on this date at this time”. Solid things that I can hold on to. The wisps of love and caring are sweet and appreciated but I can’t grasp on to them and pull myself towards them.

What doesn’t help?

Guilt trips. Think of the children, what about all the people you will hurt. That shit won’t fly any more, and I don’t feel the need to listen. Reach out to me on the level I’m on, the level where the world is better off without me, and give me hope there, not guilt that belongs to a higher level of functioning. I will cut you off.

If it all goes to hell, if I don’t make it out alive, there is nothing you could have done. I’m badly broken, and there’s a good chance it’s only a matter of time before I check out. But I’m hanging on right now. I’m trying. I’m giving myself the best chance I can, by reaching out and drawing from inside simultaneously. It could be enough for a while.

A chat with mental health 

So. Everything will be ok. The Taylor Centre say so. They are impressed with how strong and brave I am, and how well I’m putting structure into my life to cope with the various stressors I am dealing with. Everything will be just fine.

Except when I tell them that’s I’m doing worse than the day they saw me last, which was the day after I split with my boy and the day after I turned 30 largely alone, they just ignore it. They tell me how well I’m doing. Like hell I am. I fall apart every night. I stare at my drugs and wonder what a lethal dose is. I look up timetables for the main trunk line. My thinking spirals ever lower, and in the end I don’t know how I keep going. 

I’m doing everything I can to stay alive. I’m trying really hard this time. I haven’t given up. I’m still fighting. 

The Taylor Centre wouldn’t have a clue though. And they want me to go to WINZ to get funding for counselling. Completely missing that I’m already IN counselling, and that the WINZ process is so fucking bad that I would rather die than fight them again. 

I once said I would die before I went back into the psych unit, or back into community mental health care. And yet, here I am, broke as shit and not having any other option. And it’s killing me. They listen but they do not hear. They tick the boxes but there’s nothing in their service that makes you feel like they care. 

Everything will be just fine. I’m strong and brave and doing all I can. Everything will be ok.


Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Signal phrases – TW suicide

Everyone has phrases that they use that say one thing and mean another. “I’m fine”. “Dinner is delicious”. Whatever they are. 

For me there are two really important signal phrases you should know. They’re the ones that signal danger, depression, suicidal thoughts. Responding to them might save me one day.

“Everything will be ok”. The reason everything will be ok in my head is because soon I will find a way to die. Then everything will be ok for me.

“I feel peaceful/I am at peace”. This means that I have made my peace with death, and I’m actively suicidal and looking at options.

Why am I sharing this? Because as messed up as I am, I know intellectually that death is not the answer and I know I need to stick around, and if people I talk to are aware of my signal phrases they can respond.

Why not just use plain language? God knows I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. I can’t frankly tell someone I’m suicidal right now, maybe ever again. I need people to recognise signal phrases because they’re my last scream for help.

Today

Today I wear my wedding dress, for the first time since my wedding two and a half years ago. It fits me well, although my waist is smaller than it was back then.

Today I wear my wedding dress in honor of my husband, who turned 31 yesterday. I hope to the bottom of my heart that he had a good day. I broke again last night as I caught sight of the dress, peeping out of my closet and taunting me with everything bygone.

Today I wear my wedding dress to feel and acknowledge everything that went wrong, and to formally say that I will honor my past but I will no longer let it hold me. I will not be the person I was that destroyed my marriage any more. I will learn and I will grow and I will make better decisions.

Today I wear my wedding dress and I make a promise to myself. I will heal and grow and not throw myself into another relationship. I will learn to be strong on my own, and not lean on another for my lifestyle or my emotional stability.

Today I wear my wedding dress and I mourn what was, but I look forward to what I can become.

Today I say goodbye to a great love of my life, and I promise to make the next great love of my life myself.