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.

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.

Signs of a Struggle

Dear Cas,

It is I, your twenty-five year old self sent from the future to impart my wisdom. Yeah it’s all a bit confusing and awkward. I can pretend to be a fairy godmother or some mystical apparition if you prefer, maybe even don some fairy wings to make this all more visually exciting? No? Whatever. I know you’re not going to want to listen to me, you don’t listen to anyone, I know that cos I am you innit and I’m more than aware of your pain in the arse tendencies.

Just bear in mind what I say and trust me a little bit. Please.

I was going to write a long lists of dos and dont’s, ya know, since I’m all wise and shit. But other than one – PUT THE TWEEZERS DOWN WOMAN, YOUR EYEBROWS ARE NEVER GONNA GROW BACK FFS – I’m not gonna do that. I suppose it’s sort of expected of someone in this position, the Disney version of things, that when we’re in the midst of complete and utter shit, that someone will float down from up above, hold our hand and tell you everything is going to be OK, make sure you do this, avoid that bloke – he’ll mess with your head, don’t forget to do your pelvic floor exercises, eat more greens, blah blah blah.

But I can’t do that.

Yeah you still feel shit more often than not. Stuff is still hard, harder than it should be. There are times when even just existing is too much to deal with. You will wonder when you’re gonna get given a fucking break sometimes, when you can politely take your plate away, place your hand over it and say “That’s plenty, thank you.”

You’ll still withdraw like a petrified hermit crab. And you’ll continue to blame yourself for well, pretty much everything. There’ll be times when you’ll wonder whether you’ve made any progress along this dark tunnel, that maybe you’re stuck in front of a rolling background but you’re not actually getting anywhere at all.

But do you know what’s different now, mate? Now there is laughter, there is love surrounding you like you’ve never experienced before, and yes, that’ll bring its own problems obvs, nothing’s ever simple is it? You won’t know how to accept all this good stuff, you’ll think you don’t deserve it. But it is here, all over the fucking place, it’s tangible and jumping on your face at 6am on the dot every morning.

I can’t tell you how to get from where you are to where I am, or tell you the shortcuts or how to avoid the shitty bits. I won’t pretend life is gonna be all unicorns puking up rainbows and daisy chains, it’s not, it might never be, I don’t know. All I can tell you is to keep going, persevere and never stop, because what you’ll find in ten years will be worth it, it’ll be far from perfect, believe me, you’ll spend days getting shit on your face and spending hours getting silly putty out of your son’s hair and hiding behind the fridge door to cry for a moment FFS, but it’ll be real, I canpromise you that.

There is nothing wrong with you, and you are not broken. Nor is there an evil little gremlin in your head, messing with your thoughts and jangling everything around. You are how you are, you will learn to accept it as a part of you.

I know the words may mean nothing, but I hope they stay with you in some way at the back of your mind and that you trust me. It will be worth it, the scars and echos and signs of a struggle will always stay with you in the shadows but there is good stuff waiting for you, Cas.

The reason I can’t tell you how to get from A to B is because what if I were to fuck up the road? What if you missed the man you now share your name with? What if you never met? Or had your son, the tiny person that essentially saved your life and gave you an anchor? There’s simply just too many things I could mess up for you if I were to give away the surprises your future has in store, and yeah I could divert you from the pain and the ugly and the boring stuff, but what about these two beautiful people who are now you’re life? I’m sorry dude, but it isn’t worth the risk. You will make it through, you will get to where I am now with a slight sense of accomplishment to have made it out of the dark of your teenage bedroom and to make just the tiniest of imprints on the outside world when it never, ever felt possible.

You will get here Cas. I promise. And it really, truly will be worth it.

Now lose the tweezers and write a letter to Magnum demanding they make pistachio flavoured ice cream stat.

Your twenty five year old self,

Cas

x