“When are you having another baby?”

This morning, I helped a friend after the school run. She had her hands full, was trying to open a heavy gate and push a buggy at the same time. Naturally, she was causing a tailback of parents trying to hot foot it out of the bitter cold after kissing their offspring goodbye, and I was in severe need of caffeine, I selflessly stepped in and helped her out by pushing the buggy for her and immediately regretted my saint-like good nature. In my groggy, half-asleep state, I was ambushed by a gaggle of highly excitable, walking ovaries (broody mums).

“Oh it suits you, Cas!”

“When are you going to have another one?”

“Oh please have another, please!”

And last, but definitely not least…

*dramatic gasp* *suspicious twinkle in eyes* “Oh my God, you’re not pregnant, are you?!”

I did what any self-respecting 28 year old mother would do in a highly personal, uncomfortable, unexpected situation. I whimpered a nervous giggle and ran the fuck away.

I wanted to collapse among the painted snakes and ladders of the school playground and weep. I wanted to let out this all-consuming ball of “I-want-another-baby-so-badly-it-physically-hurts.” I wanted to tell them I took a pregnancy test a few days ago and when faced with a single blue line, I barely spoke for the rest of the day, silently hating myself for getting my hopes up and letting my mind wander. I wanted to say that this burning need to have another baby has simply grown and intensified over the last 6 years. And it’s gotten to the point that I now subconsciously find myself window shopping for baby clothes online when I’m supposed to be buying school uniforms and have shamefully avoided friends and family who are pregnant or have new tiny babies.

I didn’t do that though, instead I scuttled away, burying my face further into my scarf while guilt engulfed me. Why doesn’t one child feel like “enough”? Because he is enough, he’s everything, he’s at the epicentre of our chaos filled lives and always will be.

But what if there’s more?

My heart shatters every time he asks for a little brother or sister, and then thinks for a moment before finally deciding on a sister and I have nothing to say but “I know, baby, I know,” and I have to quickly distract him with something else because my heart’s battering my ribs like a moth caught in a jar.

An ever-increasing age gap that just gets bigger and bigger.

Beating myself up for not being well and for things not being different. Resenting myself for not being able to just say “Fuck it,” and get busy making babies because the need to feel the weight of our newborn on my chest again is just too great.

Because what if I get ill again? What if I can’t get out of bed for weeks on end? What if I have another breakdown and end up in a mental hospital, terrified and alone – again? Last time, we were lucky, Noah was at school when the police coaxed me, crying into the back of their car to take me to A&E. He was young enough to innocently accept that “mummy’s just a bit poorly” for my absence. I can never, ever afford for that to happen again but the fear constantly hangs over me.

My head tells me we have to be sensible and responsible, that we still need a few things in place and that we will get there. We will. Honestly, we will. Soon.

While my heart cracks into countless shards, doubt creeps over me like ice and I’m left feeling hopeless, ungrateful and selfish.

My body aches and tears sting my face in the frozen air, my legs struggle as if I’m ploughing through wet cement as I try to get home as quickly as possible. A weight, a tangible real weight over my shoulder brings me back to the present moment. A gentle tinkling sound. I stop dead on the pavement as I realise Noah’s schoolbag, adorned with half a dozen Star Wars keyrings, full of Dennis the Menace library books and twigs and leaves he’s collected is still slung over my shoulder, ten minutes after giving him a kiss and telling him to have a good day.

At that moment, turning around is the very last thing I want to do, I don’t want to see the hoard of mums again. My toes have grown numb while the cold creeps through my rubber soles. But I do it anyway. I turn around. Because against all odds, with both his parents being ill, with nothing turning out like we planned, and even when we didn’t think we could do it, we did good with Noah. And somehow, soon, we’ll do it again.

Holidays-Ageddon

We’re just halfway through the summer holidays. That’s just three weeks. HOW HAS IT ONLY BEEN THREE WEEKS? In that time we’ve had a violent sickness bug stampede through the house, my kid’s been stung by a wasp, he’s gone to bed at 10pm and still had the sheer audacity to get up at 5.30am and to top it off, he’s called me a twat.

So all and all, we’re doing alright, yeah?

I reckon parents fall into two groups when it comes to the school holidays and half-term. Unless you home educate – in which case I need the number of your therapist.

On one hand we have the relaxed and calm lot, rejoicing the lack of early alarms, packed lunches and ironing – “Every day is an adventure!” they’ll tell you wistfully, while you wonder if you even have the appropriate footwear to conquer anything vaguely adventurey or outdoorsy. “I can’t wait for all the lie-ins!” they’ll cry happily.

Lie-ins? Eh? If we’re talking about anything past 7am – then I think we need to see other people.

Then we have the second group, quivering and nervous and oozing with self denial about what we’re going to face in the next few weeks, and how are we gonna do it, where routine and everything we know that’s safe flies straight out of the window.

I mean, come on, they must be knackered right? They have to be. Surely they could do with at least one pyjama day with a side order of Disney films and way too many baked goods? Alas no, before you’ve even got to the good bit with the singing lobster – the little blighter has ripped off his pyjamas, adorned them on his head in a makeshift turban leaving him completely starkers and is attempting his escape from a window.

This is the moment when you realise that you’re no longer enough. The second it dawns on you that this feral creature you helped to make needs other children, lots of land, big open spaces and padded stuff to fling himself from and no amount of craft projects, park visits or baking days will tame that for very long at all.

Other things that you’ll no doubt encounter over holidays-ageddon:

The day you need to wait around the entire day for a delivery – the elusive 8am – 6pm slot will leave you in a false sense of security that you’ll be able to get out at some point, all the way until it arrives at precisely 5.59pm. Or worse, NOT AT FUCKING ALL.  By which point the kids will have made it their sole priority for you to go completely grey by bedtime, you’ll have shamefully wondered if it’d be really bad if you just locked them outside for a bit, just a little bit and had a mini cry in the airing cupboard under the guise of finally sorting the laundry out.

Two: The relatives are coming! Did you know you can translate “summer holidays” back to an old Norse saying which means “Family will descend on home and cause great discomfort / self-loathing and lust for murder.” It’s true, y’know. Brace yourself for arguments with the other half, a home that smells of a sickening mixture of bleach, freshly cut flowers and potent fear all while your children hate you even more than usual as you’ve hidden their collection of rocks / Kinder Egg toys / dead leaves and brushed their hair too vigorously and told them strictly not to sing Baby Got Back near your mother in law.

And thirdly: Get down with the sickness. “Mummy? Mummy, I think I’m going to be si-” 48 hours of every plausible surface including you, the cat, and OH GOD DON’T GET THE CARPET! covered in projectile vomit. And worse. Simultaneously. You’ll mop their sweat soaked brows with cold flannels. You’ll boil wash every known item of clothing and bedding. You won’t even care too much when they miss the bucket and puke straight over you. The flipside is when you inevitably catch the noro-bastard a few days later. “Can we go to the park today, mum?” asked earnestly while you whimper and crawl up the stairs desperately trying not to shit yourself. Again.

You wait, kiddo. You just wait until your first hangover, I’ll get you back.

However you’re getting through the summer holidays, I salute you – it ain’t easy, that’s for sure. I can guarantee I’ll be the first mum at the school gates on the 3rd, pleading with them to take us back. That we’ve changed and we promise to never be later than 8.40am and we’ll do the reading book every single night, I swear.

No More, No Less

A bittersweet realisation struck me the other day. On our return from a long, hot day at the beach, our skin turned freshly pink from the sun, sand smuggled in every orifice imaginable and a happy, exhausted kid bursting with stories about the first crab he ever caught and OMG THE ICE CREAM and and and… All while covered in dirt from digging around in the mudflats and his hair full of saltwater.

I realised I was content.

I realised I was enjoying being this dude’s mum and spending time with him.

And there’s not many occasions I can say that’s actually happened.

Obvs it should’ve been a happy moment, but with the addition of the notorious Mum Guilt™ and Parental Doubt©, instead it was tinged with a generous dollop of  “I’m so shit. I’ve ruined his childhood,” and “Fuck, I better start saving for his therapy.”

Thing is, I reckon it’s still an unsaid thing, finding parenting a chore, something a lot of us cover up with self deprecating quips about needing to neck the gin / wine / any alcoholic beverage to hand (delete as appropriate) and hiding in the toilet with the door locked, armed with our phones and stolen Freddos and Smarties. Truth is I don’t really drink, and the last time I locked myself in the bog, the kid shat on the carpet outside the bathroom before I could hide away my contraband wrappers, wipe away the tear stains and allow him entry because ya know, sometimes 30 seconds warning of MUMMY I NEED A POO HELP IT’S COMING, ain’t enough.

What I mean is, we jokingly skirt around the issue, dance around it while the reality nips at our toes and we try not to let the pain reflect in our faces or the exhaustion show around our eyes, when all we want to do is collapse and weep for help.

I’ve been stuck in that seemingly never-ending cycle of wanting nothing more than to go back to bed before I’ve even properly begun the day, of feeling panicked and trapped, my heart racing, my head swimming with fear every time I’m cornered to play with my kid. Of having to physically force myself out the front door for every school run, every birthday party and outing, sweating, short of breath and shaking. Plus all the innocuous day-to-day parental tasks and required emotions and energy that simply feel impossible and out of reach, for the majority of my six years as a mum.

It’s only now, after more than six years, that I can look back on a day and think “That was a good day.” Even with the house decimated and my kid’s parting shot when he goes to bed is “‘Night, OLD LADY,” while he tries to wipe his bogies on me.

It was a good day.

No more, no less.

And it’s enough just as it is, because it’s been such a long time coming.

And Repeat

A year ago, to the day in fact (thanks to that smug little animated dinosaur that prances onto my phone to merrily remind of my annual failings each and every morning) I wrote this post. It was nothing special, but the point is I could’ve written dozens more exactly like it. The ominous assessment, the dreaded GP review, the painful therapist appointment. Where the texture or tone or composition might be slightly different, but they’d still essentially be a snapshot of the exact same thing.

Me, perched on the edge of a padded chair that’s too low to the ground in a grey room, panic racing through me, eyes darting methodically. The generic box of tissues. The certificates on the wall. The grubby mark on the wall by the door. My fingernails. Dust motes dancing in the ever decreasing sunlight creeping through the vertical blinds. The ill-chosen printed artwork on the wall. Back to the tissues.

And repeat.

The doctor / therapist / psychologist / psychiatrist (delete applicable) absent-mindedly twirling to and fro in their swivel chair, fingers poised over their keyboard and mouse, ready to type unknown words I can’t see or churn another prescription out.

I ask for help. I say the things I don’t want to say. I nod silently.

I’m handed another prescription with a disingenuous head-tilt, complete with what they’re probably aiming for as empathy in their tired, slow eyes. I’m given instructions to call 999 if “things get bad”.

I leave.

I go home. I hide in my bed. I refuse to speak.

And repeat.

This well-trodden and anti-climatic routine led to “things getting bad” with a crescendo of me having a breakdown and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital last summer which I’m only starting to process now. Apparently, a breakdown isn’t a fix. It’s not a cure. It’s not the excuse to surround yourself with inspirational quotes and self-care and cross your fingers really hard that the same thing won’t happen again.

It’s a huge, ugly, jagged event that towers above everything else, where you start to remember things Pre-Breakdown and Post-Breakdown. You can’t talk about it because, well, if you’ve had a breakdown, you’ve got it out of your system now at least, yeah? Now let’s change the subject. There’s no “Sorry about your breakdown” cards. You’re just surrounded by concerned eyes watching you when they think you’re not looking, an avalanche of *hugs* and more dissatisfied appointments in grey rooms.

In the Post-Breakdown haze, the local crisis-team visited me at home. Although, they weren’t really the proper crisis team, I’d have to wait months for that, these people were more the mildly problematic team. I didn’t want to talk to them. I no longer trusted myself and felt if I said a trigger-word, they’d be sectioning me. They intimated that I might be dealing with more than just your common house depression.

The words “personality disorder” seeped through before my defenses shot into the atmosphere. I didn’t listen to another word they said.

The private psychiatrist I paid over 150 quid to see for fifteen minutes, shrugged off the suggestion while my other half saw a chance of getting somewhere, a breakthrough and I refused him it.

I didn’t know what to think, who to trust, denying that anything was wrong. The words, the lingering, leading questions were invisible rain, sinking through my protection, my clothes, making me colder and colder while I pretended it was OK as my teeth chattered and my skin was covered in goose-flesh.

Until one night, I told my best friend. I told her about the exhausting, unpredictable switches in mood. The compulsions. The sensory overload. The panic I felt at being asked if I was OK, because honestly, I had no idea. I told her the seemingly tedious details. I told her everything.

She’d asked questions, she’d said the scary Personality Disorder words, she asked if I was sure I was just dealing with depression, but it was OK. I realised then that it was alright to listen to other people’s opinion and myself, that a personality disorder didn’t have to be a terrifying unknown.

From next week I’ll be going back to the grey rooms with the dirty marks on the walls. I’ll be asking to be re-diagnosed, for a second opinion. Most likely I’ll be nodding silently, leaving with a prescription pressed into my palm and not much else.

And repeat.

Secrets

From a very, very young age, I’ve learnt that mental health is something we do not talk about. Ever. Unless it’s in a small, quiet room with someone whose name starts with Dr or you’re paying someone by the hour, just so you unbottle all the junk messing up your grey matter until the next appointment comes around.

It’s been hidden away.

Sordid and shameful.

Secret.

I was never allowed friends over to play or have tea with or make dens with when I was little. In case they saw something. My mum’s bottles, scattered over the carpet, empty and silent. Or her hoarded, collected mess. They’d know, and that simply wasn’t allowed.

As I got older, and I began my own epic journey through the NHS and assessments and therapy and “Tell me Cassandra, have you any traumatic memories from your childhood?” My mum would take me, keen to coach me on what to say, what not to say and “Don’t tell them about my drinking.” Before the door was even closed behind me and the counsellor and I’d located all the exits in my mind and where they kept the ever-present box of tissues, without realising it, I was already keeping secrets. Don’t mention this, don’t tell them about that and never ever mention the gin problem.

Although I write openly (possibly too openly) about the state of my head on here, I still struggle very much in real life. It’s wrong. We don’t go there. No one needs to know. Keep it schtum. And on and on and on. I’ve lied to taxi drivers when they’ve asked, taking me to strange buildings in the late evening, instead of just saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to therapy.” I’ve come out with preposterous lies, “I’m going to a yoga class.” Or “I’m having acupuncture.” Like, seriously, FFS.

But.

Something’s shifting.

The pills I’m currently taking, the ones that make it impossible to function in the mornings, the ones that leave me 20 minutes in the morning to wake up as a grumbling, growling mess once Noah’s sat on my head and said rather urgently “Mummy… The clock says eight, two, zero…” and get my shit together and deposit him to school, avec lunch bag, book bag, suncream applied and teeth brushed. Yeah? Yeah, those ones. They’ve shat all over my “must never be late, must never be late” mantra. They’ve flung my at least sort-of-pretending -to-be-holding-everything-together out of the nearest window.

They’ve left me pretty naked. No amount of Bobbi Brown Under Eye Concealer can save me. And a “Whoops! Woke up late!” said in the jolliest tone you can manage while your mates pass you in the opposite direction, somewhat bemused – just doesn’t have the same effect four fourteen days running.

I did the unthinkable the other day. Seeing the usual gaggle of mums gathered around the school gate, having already dropped their children off, I almost fell to the ground into an army crab crawl to the nearest bit of shrubbery until they left. I tried. But Noah didn’t join in. Instead, I was forced to hope my literal bed hair was mistaken for stylishly dishevelled and camouflaged any coffee stains upon my clothes rather artfully with my scarf.

Once I’d done the mock hurrying into the playground / eye roll and “Come on, darling, quick quick!” and saw the kid into his classroom, I made my way back to the gate and all eyes fell on me. “Everything OK?” and then there was silence.

Before I knew it, my censorship button still asleep, I said it.

“Oh, just the new antidepressants I’m taking. They’re making so drowsy, I can’t wake up.”

Just like that.

Twenty six years of secrets, of keeping the truth hidden away. Of smoke and mirrors and biting my tongue.

Gone.

The silence that followed felt like an eternity.

But do you know what? Nothing happened. No one screamed or ran away, or gathered their pre-schoolers into their petticoats, shielding them from the mental case. Nothing happened at all.

It was OK.

The secrets were dispelled, the mystery revealed and somehow, the world didn’t end.

I (Don’t) Wanna Be Sedated

Morning. Bedroom. Waking up.

Rationality: Oh. It’s 8.20. Shit.

Irrationality: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. We’re doomed. DOOMED.

R: It’s OK. It’s cool. Erm. Yeah. Let’s just get dressed, grab some biscuits and run out the door.

I: NO! It’s all fucked. I’m fucked. I’m going to have to go to the school office and see the judgey receptionist AGAIN and they’re going to give me that LOOK. They KNOW. They KNOW I’m fucked up. They’re going to start asking questions and they’ll see that I didn’t brush his hair properly or iron his uniform and they’ll remember that time I forgot to bring in his reading diary and I REFUSE to give him a bag of crisps on the way to school for breakfast.

R: No, no they won’t. We can get there in twenty minutes. It’s fine. And they’re breakfast biscuits innit. Totally allowed. It’s fine.

I: It’s not fine. Nothing’s fine. He’s going to be THAT kid. The one everyone gives the side eye and feel sorry for him for having a shit mum.

R: Oh shut up, no they won’t.

I: LOOK! LOOK AT HIS HAIR! It looks like I’ve backcombed it, not brushed it.

R: Come on. Let’s go.

I: Er…

R: What is it? What now?

I: I can’t move. The new pills. OMG, OMG, OMG. Something’s happened. My body’s made of lead. Has someone filled my veins up with sand when I was asleep?  I’m stuck like Neo in the Matrix when he goes all slo-mo ninja.

R: Oh FFS.

I: I TOLD YOU WE’RE FUCKED!

8.46am. Outside. Walking.

R: Can you go any faster?

I: I AM walking fast. Look. Look at me go.

R: You’re staggering a bit, dude.

I: DON’T TELL ME THAT.

R: OK. Don’t worry, we’re nearly there.

I: We’ve been walking for EVER – OH SHIT, WHERE’S HIS LUNCH BAG?

R: Oh Christ.

I: Oh no. I can’t make him have school dinners, he won’t eat them, I can’t take the guilt. And I’m not sure I can talk without slurring to the receptionist so I can explain. Why won’t my body just work?! This is like walking through concrete. Can you see a dart anywhere on me? Have I been tranquilised?

R: We’ll sort it, honestly.

I: Oh shit, look. Parents. Fucking loads of them. WALKING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. They KNOW, they totally KNOW.

9.03am. Outside school gates.

I: Dude. That was way too hard.

R: You’ve done it now. We just need to get you home somehow and do it again in a few hours.

I: Oh sweet Jesus, no. No. No. No. I’m staying here.

R: What? You can’t stay here for six hours.

I: It’s going to take me six hours to walk home. I’m totally staying here.

R: Well could you look less… Drunk? And weird? And not sit in a bush?

I: I’m just going to take a little nap.

R: What..? NO! We’re going to get arrested! We’re outside a SCHOOL. You can’t just sleep in a hedge outside a school.

I: Aha, will the police take me home though?

R: *says nothing*.

I: *snores*.

R: Fuck.

Intruders

*unexpected, sudden noise*

What the shitting hell was that? I think to myself while I shove my face through the curtains in a fashion I think is completely stealthy and surreptitious. Once I’m satisfied that there’s no one lurking behind the rubbish bags on the street, I go through the house and do the same at the back door, taking particular interest in the pop-up tent and trampoline. There could be a cackling maniac on the loose, hell-bent on invading people’s gardens at night to frolic on their play equipment while the owners sleep, totally unaware.

But nope.

Nothing.

Oh God, what if they’re in the house?

I close the curtains again, lock the doors and creep upstairs, my back flat against the wall, because ya know, that’s what they do in films, right? The cat joins me, squirming around my ankles, she knows some shit’s going down too and spurs me on.

I bypass my own bedroom, the constant low (yet somehow deafening) snore emanating from within would surely put them off hiding in there and head straight to Bean’s room to prize the door open.

I’m met with nothing more than snuffly grunts while Noah writhes around his bed, sweaty and fast asleep.

Checking under the bed only to find the usual devastation of an entire castle scene, Playmobil men decapitated and bodies strewn everywhere, like Game of Thrones for fucking five year olds, I admit defeat and head back downstairs, making sure everything’s locked and arm myself with a toy light saber for protection. I sit on the sofa and somewhat shaken, resume what I was doing when I was startled by the unexpected noise.

I press play on the TV.

And THWACK – it hits me, straight between the eyes. (I mean this figuratively, obvs, the flashback of the sound, not the axe belonging to my imagined intruder.)

I was laughing.

Out loud.

A sound I didn’t recognise. A sound I’ve not heard properly for over a year. A sound I’ve tried to fake and force unsuccessfully a gazillion times, when really, it’s the easiest sound to make naturally.

Something completely innocuous on TV actually managed to wheedle through the barriers and caused a good reaction in me, rather than making me feel worse or causing me to think about how things should be, how I should be.

The pills, it’s the pills. Is this me or is it the pills making a beta 2.0 version of me? The guilt of all those times when I should have been able to react normally, and smile and nod and laugh at the funny bits when Noah’s talking to me about school and ninjas and poo.

For a brief moment, I consider grabbing the small white box stuffed with blister packs of the little intruders and flushing them down the toilet. Hating them a little bit for giving me something in just three weeks that I haven’t managed alone in over a year.

I pause the TV again, another sound, my mouth gaping open to listen better for a moment, and I realise it’s Bean, giggling in his sleep, muffled into his pillow, dreaming.

And that’s the moment I know I couldn’t. That I couldn’t deprive my home of another second of laughter and silliness, of my son never being able to remember his mum laughing, only the same stretched smile with dead eyes.

That’s when I let the intruders stay and put down the fucking light saber that was still gripped in my hand.

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

Circles

Thursday Morning:

They search me, they trace their hands up my sleeves to ensure I’m not hiding anything. They ask what’s in my pockets before forcing me outside, into the back of their car. I feel eyes watching me from every window, the immovable sense that I’ll be some gossip for when their husbands and kids get home.

They take me to A&E. They follow me to the desk and again, everyone’s watching me, trying to work out what I’ve done to have police escorting me. They put me in the special room I’ve seen so many times before. For criminals, for people being abusive or violent, for drunks. We sit there for hours. On the hottest day of the year, no windows, the heat rising and I can’t remove my sweatshirt because they’ll see what I’ve done.

It’s a blur. They ignore me, they talk amongst themselves, listening to their radios and commenting on the accident that’s being reported and go on to talk about RTA’s they’ve been to where they’ve had to scrape people off of the road.

Thursday Afternoon:

It goes on for hours, and then they’re gone. More people come and eventually go again.

“What happened this morning before the police brought you in?”

“I don’t know, I don’t remember.”

Again, and again, the same forms, the same questions, the same cold, blank expression from the person asking me, the same tiny box of tissues being handed to me in an attempt to clean up the mass of tears, and the unshakeable feeling that this is never going to end.

The hours pass. They clear the A&E bed and room of all equipment so I don’t attempt to garrotte myself with a blood pressure pump, a nurse sits with me the entire time and closes the paper curtains so no one has to see me sobbing uncontrollably. I ask to go to the toilet, she follows me and tells me not to lock the door. I’m not allowed to use the phone. We return to the bed, she tells me I can sleep but I ignore her and sit bolt upright, watching the blue curtains for shadows approaching, waiting for someone to come along and tell me this was all a terrible, ugly dream.

Another doctor arrives. We go through the questions again and he asks what I want to do, I tell him I want to go home and he says that’s not possible, it’s not safe for me yet. He says I need to go to another hospital for the night, a secure mental health unit to be assessed properly before I can go home. I ask what the other option is, hoping there’s some way out and he answers simply –

“We’ll have to section you under the Mental Health Act.”

Thursday Evening:

I’m taken in the back of an ambulance to the other hospital. I can’t see where we’re going, I don’t know the hospital. I don’t know who I’m with and it all feels so, so wrong. We arrive at the hospital and start going through a series of locked doors, as many doors are locked behind me and the paramedics as are opened before us. All too soon, we’re there. Locked in.

They go through my bag, taking away my glasses and phone charger, they fill out more forms. The woman keeps telling me I’m really tearful when I’m sitting there still, completely numb and for the first time all day I don’t feel like crying.

The rest is a blur. I’m forced to sit with other patients in a lounge area because the dorms are locked. They offer pills I don’t know and I refuse them. I’m told I might be lucky enough to see a doctor for the assessment tomorrow. Eventually I’m allowed to sleep. In an empty room, with the lights on, and a opaque window that won’t open.

Friday Morning:

I’m allowed to see the doctor for my assessment. Except, it isn’t an assessment. They tell me I’m going to be OK, they nod enthusiastically as if I’m supposed to join in, they tell me my family’s supportive and that this was just a blip and that I can go home.

I leave the procession of locked doors to be the outside world, without any money, without my phone as it’s out of battery, without a single phone number or leaflet, or what I should do if it happens again and without the slightest clue as to what happened to me to cause the events of the previous morning.

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.”