Wearing grief. 


I am grieving for lost friends. 
We were extremely close – even intimate. We spent so much time together, through the good times and the bad. We held each other and, at times of stress, we reached out to each other. We communicated without words: our language was one of touch and feel and vision; knowing when to stay close, and when to give each other space. 

Together, we were strong and outwardly confident. We knew the inner truth was different, but we conspired to hide this secret from the world. 

And now they’re gone. 

I’m grieving for my beloved clothes that are too small for my life as it is now. It feels like another part of me has died. I carry on breathing in and out; I have the technical definition of life, but they don’t. Like conjoined twins, where one exists only because of the other, we’ve been separated. And now they’re mere piles of cloth, lying prone on the floor, a skin shed and left behind. 

I hold them in my arms and tell them how sorry I am, that I didn’t mean to end their existence. That I love them and I miss them and I’ll never forget the life we shared. 

I remember how they shielded me from all the unspeakable empty times when I was a ghost of a human, but they stepped in to provide a disguise and buffer between me and the questions with no answers. 

I stroke them and I apologise for the betrayal. For allowing the body to push them beyond their capabilities. I thank them for trying to carry on being my support when I started to turn my back on them and walk away. I hold them tight and wish we could go back to the way things were before. 

To you, the outsider, they are just pieces of cloth. A frankly strange combination of materials that you might put on without a second thought. 

But I know their value; they’ve been my disguise, my refuge, my identity. My personality to a certain extent. 

I have abandoned them. They’re dead to me and yet they are part of my past that I desperately want back. 

They won’t get a funeral or a wake of any sort. They won’t get a memorial. 

They will never be forgotten. Never. But their life is over and I’m deeply sad about that. 

Goodbye, my friends. 


Saying the unsayable.


After forty one years I wrote down the words I’d never ever meant to say – even to myself. 

I wrote a story about a little girl in a way that strangely reminds me of The Tiger Who Came To Tea. A story about how a seemingly ordinary life took an extraordinary turn. A tale where a little girl just accepted strange events because, to a child, so much doesn’t make sense, and they just do it because it’s what the grown up says.

I wasn’t supposed to be writing about this. It was therapeutic writing group and the plan was to create a personal crest to symbolise what was important in my life. I went with my first instinct to say ‘fuck that for a game of cards, I’m not in primary school anymore’. But I’d also been waiting for a structured time to sit down, face the paper – and the past. I’d been trying to put past events back in their box, but failing, badly. 

It doesn’t matter what I wrote. What I want to puzzle out is how it feels to tell the secret you were programmed never to tell. The guilt. The hot, hot shame. And the fear. 

I think you get used to living with fear. You accommodate it; even bargain with it. If I hum that particular song the dark won’t hurt me. If I don’t step on the cracks in the pavement then it might not catch up with me. If I divide all the words I see on the teleprompter in my head into equal groups of letter while holding a conversation, then the fear is held at bay. It goes on and on. You follow the rituals. And you must always do what you’re told.

But then you wake the fear, in my case, accidentally. Poke it with a stick. Bring it out into the open. Look it in the face – and it transforms into a choking beast that wants to smother you. All the promised repercussions take on a life of their own. It becomes a reality that follows you; you know it’s there, and if you could spin round fast enough, you’d be able to see it. But no one else can see the fear. They just see how you react to it. Which makes you mad. And definitely makes you look mad. 

I’m so afraid at night. I sleep with fairy lights on and the door open so no one can lock me in. I sleep lightly and go from doze to total alert in a nanosecond. I don’t feel safe at all at the moment. And when we only have bank staff on at night I am afraid to sleep. I do sleep, but I fight it all the way. 

But fear doesn’t hang around alone. It brings its friends: guilt, shame, self-disgust, and a desire to put an end to everything. 

I started out with something else to say, but that can wait. 

All I want to say right now is that whoever tells you to feel the fear and do it anyway hasn’t grown up with fear as a constant companion. They need a sharp poke in the eye and to shut the fuck up. 


Disconnected waiting.

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I am waiting. No idea what for, but I’m waiting, because that’s what people say. Wait. Give it time. Things will change. Slowly, gradually, infinitesimally – but they will change.

Thing is, I don’t believe this. I think this is it. That once you’ve stood on the edge of a dimensional shift, there’s no way back.

So I am waiting for nothing. And, sure enough, as the song says, nothing’s arrived.

I’m allowing others to believe what they want to believe because I have no more explaining in me. And there’s something invalidating about trying so hard to make people understand, when all the time you know they don’t agree with you.

I am untethered by a sense of purpose. I’m disconnected from all the ties that used to contain me within life.

All I have to hold on to, weirdly, is the routine of food. However painfully, I can achieve another bite of a sandwich, or more of a fruesli bar than I did the day before. And I do remember that people who know me well say my ability to think flexibly improved when I weighed more than I do now.

And I’ve asked for higher and higher doses of medication – although even that gets the answer of “wait until ward round next week; we’ll discuss it then”.

But purpose comes from connections and I have no connections with people and animal-people in the way I had before. I do love – but in a dulled, foggy way. I don’t feel anyone needs me and I don’t feel able to be needed. And this numb dislocation doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Wait, they say. Just wait.

Well, I am, but we’re not waiting for the same things.

So I’m folding cranes and wearing eyeliner. And waiting for an opportunity for the only change I think is possible.

 


Broken trust.


I place great value on trust but, right now, don’t trust me, because I don’t trust myself. 

In this strange, unnavigable space of living when I should be dead – existing as a ghost – the value and ethics of trust have deserted me. They no longer seem to apply. I THINK I would act in a certain way in a certain situation, and I even believe I could give assurances of risk-avoiding behaviour and follow through on them. But I don’t know for sure. 

I don’t know who I am anymore, which makes me unpredictable. I am operating without any of the old rules, in a dimension that doesn’t have any boundaries, so I genuinely cannot guarantee any behaviour. 

I tentatively believe that enough of me remains to make sure anything I did wouldn’t leave an individual with a burden of guilt. But I’m not full-on sure.

I am absolutely certain that, if circumstances allowed, and I could slip through locked doors undetected, I would. And, I also know I’d run straight to the highest place I could find to gulp in the sky, trying to find solace and peace. This might be enough to make the endless minutes of ghost existence bearable for a little longer. I might turn back and return. I might not. 

So I understand why I am not worthy of trust. I understand why I’m not allowed out of the building. I get it. I really do. But how will anyone know whether my compass of trust has recentred unless it’s tested? Unless I’m allowed to experiment and try? 

Do I have to trust in the process? In the system? In individuals?

Who knows?

Answers on a postcard, please. 


Ghost life.


It’s hard work being a visible ghost. 

From the outside I look the same. Clean hair, eyeliner (of course) and, today, a particularly fine black nail varnish. I can chat, as long as it’s not at a meal time, and my dark jokes are totally on point. When visitors come – particularly family – I put on the performance of my life, because people who care about you want to equate a hospital stay with getting better. They’re seeking reassurance that ‘the professionals’ are getting on with fixing you. And showing them your true ghost existence just ends up with them giving back to you all their worry and concern about your situation. 

But being a ghost doesn’t mean being miserable and despairing all the time. There are moments where I get so wrapped up in the role of being absolutely fine I feel something that might be pleasure. Granted, this is usually in response to a little subversion against the system – but it’s still a positive emotion. Yesterday evening I worked out that, if you sit in precisely the right place in the garden and look up at the sky, you don’t see the high, confining fences. Instead it’s just you and the stars and the cool evening breeze – and you can imagine freedom. 

But the reality of ghost life is a disconnect from any sense of purpose or reason for existence. 

Imagine life as a brown paper package, tied up with string. (You’re welcome for that earworm, by the way.) Maybe there’s an extra layer of bubble wrap inside to protect what’s precious. Perhaps individual values and beliefs are lovingly shrouded in tissue paper to guarantee they survive life’s journey*.

My parcel was shoddily wrapped in a bit of a hurry. Put together with little thought of how the contents would survive a rough ride through the post. Possibly dropped at the sorting office by a tired worker doing overtime who just wanted to go home for a bacon sandwich. Without firm double knots, my string loosened and slid off. And the contents of my parcel followed, slipping out here and there to be trodden underfoot. 

A ghost is an empty parcel that’s delivered with an official sticker that says ‘damaged in transit’. The missing contents are gone forever, and there’s little point reconstructing an empty package. Or even in finding new contents for the ripped and tattered wrapping. 

Today I was lucky enough to go with an escort to see my therapist and to tell her that I have no purpose. That I’m a ghost and I don’t know what to do next. 

I used up a lot of NHS tissues and I got things out of my head that have been haunting me for weeks. There were no magic answers of course; I didn’t expect any. But I was heard and, largely (because I do have a tendency to go down elaborate metaphor rabbit holes), understood. 

We’re meeting next week which is a commitment I have the motivation to keep. 

And the cherry on the top of my afternoon was a pure act of kindness by the nurse who came with me. She signed me back into the ward and then made a special trip over to the main building to bring me a Costa latte. Semi skimmed and full sugar syrup – but you can’t have everything. 

I sat alone in the garden and savoured every drop. 

Even ghosts can enjoy good coffee. 
*I can’t fucking believe I used the word ‘journey’. All I can say is I’m not quite myself right now. 


Showing the Upside Down.


I am not good at being mentally unwell, and I’m totally rubbish at letting people see how I feel. 

I’ve spent so long honing my together persona that I don’t know how to stop. I’ve been getting up to create clean, swishy hair and careful eyeliner. I think carefully about what I wear and I’m definitely over dressed for this ward. 

I watch myself and wonder what the hell I’m doing.  

Who am I trying to convince? Why am I trying to persuade the world I’m absolutely fine when we all know I’m here because I had a detailed plan to die?

I’ve always thought it served no purpose to sit motionless up a corner with my back to the wall. I do do that, but only when I’m alone and I just can’t keep the mask in place anymore. The walls hold me. And I can always see what’s coming. I feel a tiny bit safer. 

Everything in my upbringing has taught me that weeping and wailing achieves nothing. In fact, it brings harsh and negative consequences. Smiley faces get rewarded; visibly negative emotions get punished. 

And when I do fight that conditioning and share my true feelings, it’s in the knowledge that no one can really help. I am alone with this. I’m on the nightmare side of the Upside Down and no one can reach me to pull me through to life. Trying to communicate how I feel is frustrating and exhausting and it eats energy that I just don’t have to spare. And, deep down, I don’t believe anything can help. 

So I seem together. I’m a bit thin, and people wonder (and comment) about that. But I’m careful about my body language. I make eye contact. I smile. I’m so conscious that I’m trying to be a good patient. Not cause any trouble or inconvenience. And when I finally get up, I’m often mistaken for a member of staff. All I need is a lanyard weighed down with keys, and I’d be good to go. I was thinking my Legoland driving licence and a collection of clanky teaspoons should do it. 

When I first arrived here I wept for pretty much a solid night and day. And when I thought I was hallucinating the ants I was terrified and couldn’t control the hysterical tears. Plus, any suggestion of getting on the scales, as well as every time they bring the fortisips out I get incredibly scared and jittery. And I do lose my grip on the rational.

But, apart from that, I’ve done more than a week of quietly getting on with it. Twitter has been a lifeline and I’ve watched a lot of TV. Tried colouring in. Given origami a go. Painted my nails. Tried to read a book. 

I’ve done everything I can to convince the staff I’m okay to go home. That this was a blip and that I don’t belong here. I even painted a pebble to show willing, ffs. 

Then some things happened and I hit a wall. I stopped. I stayed in my pyjamas and looked like a vacant, desiccated body with a seriously bad fringe. This ghost that looks like me varies leaking tears with quiet sobbing. It sits in a blanket, hugging a cushion that smells of home, staring at the TV. Sometimes it droops and dozes. I watch it happening from above. 

It’s not me. But it is me. 

A nurse with excellent taste in boots asked me how I felt, and I was too tired not to tell her. I betrayed myself. And now no one thinks going home is a good idea. 

I’m in the Upside Down and I can’t see a way out. 


When it all goes right.


This is a story about a lady who does her job well, and makes a difference. It’s a happy story, a tiny bit of sparkle I can remember in amongst the haze. 

The lady is called Greta. She’s an Approved Mental Health Professional – an AMHP, which always reminds me of electricity – and I met her on The Friday. 

I remember an Irish accent, geometric beads, some sort of yellow cardigan and a sense that she really knew what she was doing. She was smiley and she emanated a calm, kind sense of efficiency. She was unhurried, and I felt she was talking to me as an individual, not as someone on a (no doubt) lengthy list of people to see. 

Her name was familiar. She works in the same team as my care coordinator and, a while ago, I’d been given her name as someone to ask for while my care coordinator was on holiday. He’d suggested a few people, and I’d asked what they were like. I get on best with people who are direct. In fact, people with a fluffy approach make me want to hit my head against a wall and those frustrating conversations do more harm than good. Anyway, we settled on Greta because he described her as “kick ass” and that really appealed to me, because sometimes that’s exactly what I need. 

After the decision to section me, Greta was in charge. There seemed to be a lot of paperwork and phone calls to find a bed, but she kept coming back to sit next to me and explain what was going on. And she made time to do normal chat, too. I’ve no idea what about. But I remember that normality. Now, looking back, I think it was finding out important stuff about my circumstances and who would be looking after my girls, but she made it natural, and it was easier to focus on giving answers that way. 

She made me feel safe enough to voluntarily give her the pot of pills I had clenched in my hand in my pocket, and she hugged me while I cried for the lost opportunity. 

Greta did everything she could to make the whole process of going into hospital as easy as possible. I feel she went with her instincts, and decided I wasn’t going to fight it. I felt defeated, and I think she understood that. 

She let me drive her back to my house, so that my car wouldn’t be left in the car park to be clamped. And she set up camp at my dining room table to fill out her paperwork while I packed and sorted out my house and broke the news to my girls. With great tact and gentleness, she explained what was going on to my eldest daughter, my official next of kin. She let it all unfold around her and even reminded me to water the plants. 

The transport was taking ages to sort out and my youngest daughter was getting increasingly upset. So I texted her dad to come and get her, to get the parting over and done with. 

When he arrived he marched into my house and, without asking, walked straight past me into the dining room to see Greta. He demanded contact names and phone numbers and, calmly, Greta gave him my care coordinator’s first name and the office phone number. I then gave the girls a last hug and he shepherded them out of the house. 

I cried again and then asked Greta why she’d given him that information, and her reply warmed what was left of my heart. “Oh that type always want to know things”, she said with a shrug. “No one will tell him anything; he has no right to any information, but it got rid of him.” I was astounded at how quickly she had summed up the situation and made exactly the right call. 

When it turned out that the promised transport wasn’t going to materialise for hours, Greta got permission to take me to hospital herself. After a taxi ride back to her car, we went off on a bizarre road trip that involved swearing at traffic and Greta explaining to me how she’d learnt the hard way to recognise a bully – and how to deal with them. We got a bit lost and there was a bizarre irony in the fact that I was the one who spotted the signs and navigated us to the right part of the hospital. 

Her job was done once I was safely delivered and signed over to the ward. She wished me all the best, and I know she meant it. 

It might seem weird that I’m grateful to her. But throughout that day she did more than her job; she was primarily one human being helping another. 

And I’ll never forget that.