poetry

One Way

Do I just need fresh air

Will I be better elsewhere

Or is it that

My lungs are diseased

That the problem is in me

That even with a change of scenery

The badness will stay with me

And I’ll be this way wherever I go?

There’s only one way to know

The answer to that:

Leave

And don’t look back

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life

30 Things To Do Instead Of Dying

Unorthodox coping strategies, distraction techniques and self-harm prevention methods that I have utilised when I’ve wanted to end my life but decided to stay alive:

1. Instead of punching somebody, scrub the shit out of your oven

2. Sign every petition on change.org

3. Give yourself a tattoo

4. Grab a cactus with all your might. Spend the following hour(s) tweezing the spikes out of your hand: it’s less of a pain, more of a major irritation. You will not be able to think about anything else, trust me

5. Reminisce on celebrity interactions, like when you touched George R. R. Martin’s beard in the lift, or when Tyra Banks approached you on a street in Barcelona and said, like Regina George, “You’re really pretty,” and you turned bright red and ran away, or the other night with that SAS guy off the telly with the laugh that didn’t reach his eyes, and wonder why these humans are rich and you are poor

6. Meditate by a motorway

7. Edit the Bible. Modernise it. Swap the names of the gospels, add topical references, update the 10 commandments. “Thou shalt not manspread on the Tube,” “Thou shalt get that bread,” “Thou shalt not be attracted to Ted Bundy,” etc.

8. Steal your neighbour’s cat: would kidnapping a cat be called catnapping? take a catnap. take some catnip. whatever, just… cat

9. Go to Poundland, pick up any random item, ask a member of staff how much it costs, be surprised when they tell you it’s a quid, repeat, repeat, repeat, until you are asked to leave

10. Tell young homeless girls that you were them once, that it doesn’t have to be forever, that it can get better

11. Go to a graveyard. Challenge yourself to find the oldest birth date and the oldest death date, and marvel at the curious causes of death that were engraved on Victorian headstones

12. Flirt with an old man, make his day

13. Get on a bus at the start of its route and stay on it until the end

14. Organise your carrier bag collection into 5p, 10p, 20p and £1 bags

15. Fall asleep in the bath: wake up choking on cold soapy water: your body won’t let you die right now so don’t even bother trying

16. TTT: tramadol, tequila and tomato soup

17. Dislocate your fingers

18. Throw your phone into the Thames. Throw your whole handbag into the Thames. Fuck it, throw your clothes and shoes into the Thames, JUST NOT YOURSELF

19. Start a fire

20. Find someone equally helpless and drag them to the nearest pub

21. Go to an AA meeting: shit coffee, free biscuits, great stories

22. Cut your hair (a bit of it, most of it, all of it, just chop chop chop (your hair instead of your arms))

23. Bet on a horse. You have to stay alive to see what happens, to see if you win. When the horse loses or dies, you’ll have a new thing to be angry or sad about

24. Pop your finger bones back into place (so satisfying)

25. Write a list naming everything and everyone you are afraid of, then eat it

26. Indulge in primal scream therapy on Hampstead Heath

27. Plant mysterious and/or sinister notes in library books

28. Revel in the fact that you are not a psychopath (yay you!)

29. Bake a cake

30. Eat it too


This post is in aid of Mental Health Awareness Week (UK)

I DO NOT recommend acting on the advice above (apart from perhaps baking and eating cake): the above points are just some things that I’ve done during severe mental health crises instead of self-harming or attempting suicide.

This is post was inspired by the coping strategies that the NHS recommend to me when I’m in crisis, techniques that (while they do help lots of people and thank god for that) unfortunately do not work for me. If one more health professional teaches me “how to count to 10” or tells me to “hold an ice cube” or “scream into a pillow” or “go for a run” or “do yoga” or “snap an elastic band on your wrist” I will snap. So this post is a response to the (ineffective and patronising) advice that mentally stable people give to unstable people when all they can feel is rage and sadness and hopelessness, and all they can think about is destroying themselves. Because sometimes breathing exercises just ain’t gonna cut it.

If you are struggling with your mental health or have any thoughts about ending your life, please seek help: from a doctor, health professional, family member, colleague, teacher, friend or even a stranger. If in crisis, call the emergency number.

Do not feel afraid or ashamed to ask for help. You are worth helping and you are worthy of life. If you know somebody who is battling mental health issues, reach out to them. Lending a sympathetic ear, giving somebody a hug or sending a simple text message could save someone’s life.

Let’s all be kinder to one another. Let’s be honest, patient, supportive. Let’s be good, good people, good human beings.

Mental illness costs lives. Kindness costs nothing. ♥

Click here for a list of International Suicide Hotlines.

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prosetry

The Immaculate Depression

The girl often wondered where it had come from. Why was her life so much darker than yours? than his? than hers? than most? She grew up too quickly: she knew that for certain. The girl had seen more pain and experienced more suffering in her short life than, it seemed, others would expect to bear in their entire lifetimes.

She wondered if she was being punished – for a sin committed in a past life, because she did not sin in her current life. She asked God for answers and was met with silence. Books did the opposite: they shouted a thousand possible answers at her.

Perhaps she was born with a broken brain. Perhaps society made her that way. Perhaps she was gifted bad genes from her parents. Perhaps she had invented the pain, invited the darkness.

Perhaps if she had been born a boy, she wouldn’t feel everything so very much; perhaps she would have learned to compartmentalise, to care less, to worry less, to feel less, to just get on with it. Perhaps she would grow out of it. Perhaps she was just a “normal, hormonal, moody teenager.”

Maybe the moon was to blame for her mercuriality. Maybe she was like this because she was poor. Maybe it was because of the school she went to. Maybe it was because her parents didn’t love each other. Maybe she had hit her head when she was small. Maybe she had drunk poisoned breast-milk. Maybe she didn’t eat enough vegetables.

Perhaps she was cursed. Perhaps she needed Jesus, or an exorcism, or a month in the Siberian wilderness, or to join the army. Perhaps she needed someone to shake her, slap her across the face and shout, “STOP IT.”

Maybe there was nobody else on the planet like her; maybe she fit into no category; maybe there was no textbook written about her and there never would be, for she would die before being discovered. Maybe she had been born in the wrong generation. Maybe she was on the wrong medication. Maybe she was simply not made for this world. Maybe maybe maybe.

The doctors didn’t know. They just shrugged and gave her green sheets of paper on which were printed the names of medicines containing x’s and z’s and numbers like 375 and 2.5 and 600 and 40 and 3 times a day. The specialists, the experts, the professors: they did brain scans and shined lights in her eyes and interviewed and assessed and pretended to listen and made notes and watched her do jigsaw puzzles and analyse inkblots and build towers out of wooden bricks and studied her through a two-way mirror and locked her in a padded room and, once they realised that the girl was smarter than they were, they gave vague explanations but no real answers, and disappeared off the case.

Why was she like this? How? What happened? She needed to know.

*

When the girl had survived adolescence and school and the moon and the curse and the whole business of being a girl, she became a young woman. She read more books and met more experts and became even more uncertain about the life that she had been forced to live.

Her father was the same but different. He had a black cloud too, but he dealt with it differently. He dealt with it well, not badly like she did. Perhaps it’s because he was born a boy. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

One afternoon the young woman was making her father a cup of tea. While she was waiting for the kettle to boil, she stared at the spice rack and thought about her Immaculate Depression. She couldn’t remember an angel ever turning up in her room and bestowing this life-changing thing upon her. Like Mary, no one had asked for her permission. There was no contract signed. No terms, no conditions. It was just put on her. But not by an angel. No, she would’ve remembered meeting an angel. It must have been a devil.

Perhaps when she was a baby, a devil had swept into her room and watched her sleeping in the fruit bowl (no crib) and said, “Here! A gift for you. The Immaculate Depression. To be experienced for the rest of your life. With compliments, from Hell,” and thus she was resigned to spending the rest of her life feeling everything too much, perpetually on the brink of tears and obsessed with damage, destruction and death. Yes, that had to be it: it was an explanation just as likely as all the others that she had been offered in all her years of searching.

The young woman was distracted thinking about this. She was stirring and stirring and stirring the tea in the mug, around and around. She added milk and then realised that the teabag had split. Its contents spun around the cup, like an upturned snowglobe but inverted: black grit twisting amid a blizzard. She had stirred too much. She burst into tears. She felt too much.

Her father asked the young woman what was wrong. She sobbed, “Dad, why am I like this?” He threw the ruined tea into the sink and hugged her. “Was I always like this?” she asked, talking into the shoulder of his old denim shirt. “Was I sad as a baby, as a little girl? Did you know I was always going to be this sad?”

The young woman and her father sat down on the dusty pleather sofa.

“I knew,” he said. She was too stunned, feeling too many feelings, to say anything. He told her a story.

*

When the young woman was a little girl, barely 4 years of age, she left her bed in the middle of the night and went down the dark staircase to find her father. She had tears streaming down her face but she was not crying. She was holding a tiny clenched fist up to her chest.

“Daddy?”
“Hey, what are you doing out of bed?! It’s way past your bedtime,” he said, scooping her up.
“It hurts.”
“What hurts, darling?”
“My heart, in here,” she said, pounding her sternum.
“How does it hurt?”
“It’s too loud. I don’t want it.”
“But everyone has to have a heart, darling, it’s very important.”
“But it’s too loud. It moves too much. It moves all the time! I want to take it out.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Please can I have it taken out, Daddy, please? I don’t want it. I don’t like it.”
“You have to keep it, darling, you need it. Everyone needs a heart.”
“I don’t want it. Please, take it out. Please please please,” the girl begged, clawing at her chest, trying to rip her heart out.

The girl cried for a long, long time until she was all cried out. Her father carried her up the dark stairs and tucked her into her bed. Then he cried, quietly, barely: he rarely cried but the tears were there. He cried because he knew. The Immaculate Depression had befallen her when he’d had his back turned, when he wasn’t looking, when he was asleep. He cried because he knew that she would always feel everything too much. He wrote in his notebook that night, “Must teach daughter (when she’s old enough) that it’s better to feel everything too much than to feel nothing at all.”

*

He found that old notebook a few days after the tea-stirring incident, tore the page out and posted it to his daughter, along with another note:

To the girl with the biggest, loudest heart,
To the teenager who was too special, too smart,
To the young woman who must turn her gift of feeling into art.

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life, prosetry

Hard To Explain

I called him to say that I was just about to leave home, but that I needed to buy some smokes first and then I would meet him outside the £1 pizza shop in fifteen minutes, that I’m putting pineapple on my half of the pizza and that I didn’t give a shit about his fruit-can’t-be-a-topping argument because tomato.

I texted him to say that I wasn’t feeling too clever, that I really wasn’t feeling good at all, that I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t walk anymore, I couldn’t walk anywhere anymore, that I needed to sit down, that I wasn’t on this planet, that I wasn’t in my body, that I wasn’t anywhere, that I was nowhere.

He found me lying on the floor underneath the bus stop bench. He put his face parallel to mine on the ground. He said my name over and over and over again, each name feeling like a piece of gravel falling on me, all these little stones with my name on them crashing all about us, raining grains of grit, not hurting much but still hurting a little bit. He was there and I was there, and we were here but I’m not sure where.

My outer body was convulsing violently, my hair, my teeth, my nails, shaking, but inside I was still, I was dead still, but he couldn’t see that, he could only see that I was shaking worse than usual and that my eyes were full of cloudy tears and then we both heard my voice crack as I whispered, “I don’t know where I am.”

I was terrified but he was terrified-er. He scooped me up and carried me to his car, wherever it was, wherever we were, whoever we were. I remember that he put my seatbelt on for me and I told him not to bother: I think I said it out loud but it may have been a whisper and it may have never left my mouth. He double-checked it was secure and locked the doors. He said, “It’s my job to keep you safe.” I remember driving down roads I’d never seen before while tears fell without me moving, without me asking them to. I remember that I couldn’t move my legs, that I had set concrete in my veins instead of blood, that my shoes were anchors. I remember that I couldn’t speak, but that was fine because I didn’t know any words.

Some hours later I realised that I was at his house, tucked up on the sofa in my usual corner, wearing his big comfy clothes, with Only Fools and Horses on telly and a pint of water and my meds next to me. He was cooking Sunday dinner. I could hear him stirring gravy in the glass jug.

I dragged myself to the kitchen and stood in the doorway. He was startled when he turned around and saw me there. I quietly asked him what had happened. He said he didn’t know. I started to panic. We sat down and he told me:

that I was supposed to meet him at the £1 pizza place, that I didn’t show up, that I sent him weird texts about feeling unwell, that I wasn’t answering my phone, that he went to the shop where I buy my fags and Bossman told him that I was there earlier but that I looked drunk and that I walked down the road,

that he walked around the area looking for me, found me at the bus stop, the bus stop by my house, by Bossman’s shop, by my secondary school, by the station,

that I was really frightened because I didn’t know where I was or who I was or what was happening, that I was screaming into my wrists and couldn’t move, that it took 15 minutes for himself, two passersby and an off-duty nurse to get me to trust him enough to let him grab me from under the bench and pick me up,

that the girl under the bus stop bench wasn’t me, that it was someone else entirely, that I was like an orphaned child waking up alone in a foreign land, like a ghost of an infant, that my eyes were dead and didn’t recognise his face at all, that I didn’t seem to understand how people were existing around me, that I didn’t understand how I was existing, that I had no idea where I was,

that it was as if I was seeing for the first time the area that I walk through multiple times a day and have known like the back of my hand for 20 years, that I was scared of the buses and the people and the cars and the air and the pavement and the sounds and my heartbeat and my skin and my voice,

that he’d never seen anything like it in his entire life, that he thought I’d taken a meth overdose, that he thought I’d been smoking crack, that he thought I was possessed, that he thought I was going to die, that he thought I might kill someone, that he thought I might kill him,

that he thought he should phone an ambulance but he knew that being in hospital would terrify me more and make me even worse, that he will never forget the state he’d found me in, and that he’s quite frankly terrified of me but would do anything to get me to return to being the girl that he knows and loves.

I didn’t remember a single thing, apart from a minute in a car. I didn’t know what was real or right or wrong or true. I just didn’t know.

He said, “Look,” and pulled my sleeves up. Bloody great bite marks on my wrists, the back of my right hand, my forearms. All red and purple and violent and frantic, punctures in my flesh where my teeth fit.

I looked up at him and his eyes were soft and safe, like golden syrup. I knew then that I would always be able to find a safe place in the irides of his eyes.

“I’m scared of me too,” I said.

He hugged me, being careful not to hurt me, and then mumbled into my hair, “Do you want one Yorkshire pudding or two?” and I laughed and cried into his chest, unable and unwilling to make sense of anything in that moment, other than that one question.

“One and a half, please,” I said.


Original version of ‘Hard To Explain’ posted on 13/07/17 at The Magic Black Book. Revised version above for Hijacked Amygdala.

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art, life, prosetry

On Writing & Suffering

Pain depends on me to be its host:
suffering is the needy child,
and I’m the parent who never says no.

*

As long I write, the pain is necessary. If I stop, the pain becomes unnecessary, pointless, all for nothing apart from what it is, which is inherently bad. I am a hostage, and if I stop transforming the pain into something better I will essentially be throwing away all chance of survival: I will not make it out alive, merely allowing myself to become another casualty of a sinister, seemingly unstoppable higher power who tortures me daily even though I have nothing to reveal, nothing it wants, nothing it needs. The pain becomes sheer cruelty with no objective other than to destroy me. As long as I write, I stave it off, I delay my death day. The narcissist in me likes to think that my torturer is secretly looking forward to reading what I write next.

*

I don’t invite the badness but once the pain decides to stay, it becomes hard to turn it away. The pain of unhooking it from my skin is enough of a deterrent. Easier to let it stay: less bloody that way. So I turn it into something else – something creative, perhaps even something beautiful, or helpful. I try to, anyway.

*

I’ve been given a life sentence.
I’ve been punished, blacklisted, labelled evil.
But it’s not me. It’s not me.
I’m not the villain.
It’s my mind!
My mind is the guilty one.
I’m not the evil one, my brain is!

My decisions are not mine to make.
My actions are not mine to take.

Everyone called it “attempted suicide” but it wasn’t,
it was attempted murder, my mind tried to kill me,
it was my mind, it was my mind, not me!
My mind is the one that did it!
Why can’t you see?
Don’t you believe me?
I have proof.

*

And the evil things that it does to me, all that badness, I try desperately to turn it into something creative, into words on a page. All of these filled notebooks, all of these poems, all of these scraps of paper: the proof. The proof. The proof that I have suffered for two decades, against my will.

*

Writing feels to me like an attempt to prove my innocence. They all have me down as guilty and I’m stuck on death row. My execution date is drawing ever nearer and writing is my last ditch attempt to prove my innocence. It feels like gathering evidence from the confines of my cell and presenting it to my unsympathetic lawyer:

Look.
Look at how I’ve been tortured and beaten and terrorised.
See?
Look at all these years of misery.
You’ve got to listen to me.
I deserve to be free.
I’ve done nothing wrong.
My mind made me do it, made me do all of it, and all of the stuff that I didn’t do, too. They’ve got it all wrong.
Look at all this pain.
Look at it.
LOOK AT IT.

But it’s too late. I myself have been forgotten, and only ever remembered as mad, sad, bad. I stay locked in my cell, sharing a skull with the real danger, a bed with the real monster. I swallow my pills and eat my greens and am polite to those unfortunate souls whose jobs have led them to encounter me, the ones that are always unable or unwilling to help me, the ones who have written me off as mad, sad, bad, bad, bad. I play sudoku and collect smiles of pity. I keep writing and suffering, collecting my evidence. I suffer and I write, night after night after merciless night.

*

I dream of my grave and always smile when I see it. You dream of your name in lights, I dream of mine engraved on a marble headstone. Sometimes it says I died in 2008, sometimes 2015. It varies. The stone is always clean, polished. Someone’s been looking after it. Lush green grass has always grown over me perfectly, evenly, even beautifully; the first true natural equilibrium that has ever befallen me. The world is a better place. I smile until it hurts my face.

Upon waking from my latest grave dream, I reach for the box of evidence that is stowed under my bed. I unlock the box for the first time in a long time, so long in fact that I almost forget where I’d hidden the keys. Starting in 2003, I begin to read. Even though it is my own story, I am shocked at what I read. Look at all this pain. Look at all this trauma. Look at all this sadness. Look at all this writing. Look at all this suffering. Look at it. “Look,” I say to no one. “LOOK.”

*

My biggest regret is taking myself for granted. Appreciate your intelligence, your personality, your abilities, your beauty. You may wake up one day and find that your own brain has decided to take all of your goodness away.

 

 

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prosetry

An Education

Once upon a time, my odd behaviour, strange way of thinking, and outrageous antics were endearing. Everyone loved me and my wild ways, perhaps even because of my wild ways. But now that most people have a greater awareness and understanding of mental illness, my behaviours are appalling, tragic, pitiful, dangerous, distressing. “Such a shame.

Once upon a time, it was funny when I climbed into a chest freezer in a supermarket because I was so tired and wanted to sleep and the shop was too noisy and I needed to be cold because I honestly thought my blood was on fire. “Omg you’re sooo crazy hahaha!” “What a nutter, you’re so funny!” “Lmfao I fucking love you, you crazy bitch!” “You are SUCH a legend!” If I did that today, you’d call 999, failing to hide the embarrassment on your face. You’d scuttle away from the “scene”, but not before telling the crowd of onlookers that I’ve “been like that for years.

The idiosyncrasies of mine that were once adorable are now utterly deplorable.

It’s funny how things change. Unfortunately, I haven’t. I’m still as sick as ever. But at least you’re educated about mental health now, right?


Originally published on The Magic Black Book as 010218.

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prosetry

Wild Horses

​You mix my medication into a pot of strawberry yoghurt and instruct me on how to eat. Open. Come on. That’s it. No, don’t chew it, it’s yoghurt, just get it down ya. There’s a good girl.

My phone is ringing but I can’t locate the source of the noise. It hurts to move my eyeballs. You find my phone and see who is calling me: it’s the guy that you’re (quite rightly) suspicious about. You pretend you didn’t notice who called but I see your aura change colour and you exhale too sharply.

I start shouting about needing a cigarette. You find my cigs and lighter and slowly walk me to the balcony. You light me up and hold me back, away from the edge. I keep dropping my cigarette. I cry. I ask you where the moon is and you tell me that it’s up there somewhere but it’s hiding.

You carry me to bed and manage to remove the chandeliers that are threaded through my ear-lobes. I am suddenly aware that I ought to brush my teeth but I don’t have the strength and the idea leaves me as quickly as it arrived. I don’t know what day it is and I don’t care. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where I am. What is this? I just need everything to stop. What is this?! I don’t like it. I don’t like this one bit. You magically produce a syringe of morphine. I am so happy to see you. I tell you that I love you.

You arrange my body into the recovery position and tell me that I’m safe, that everything’s going to be fine, that when I’m better we’ll go to the seaside, that I don’t need to apologise, that you’re here to look after me. I ask you if we can adopt some sugar gliders instead of having kids. I don’t know what your reply was, if you even replied at all, but I’m sure you would’ve said yes, of course darling, because you love me too much.

I remember you smoothing my hair and whispersinging the lyrics to Wild Horses to me until I fell asleep. Wild horses couldn’t drag you away from me. But I fear that my sicknesses might cause you to walk away, voluntarily, gladly, thankfully. That, or I’ll drag you down with me. Either way, it’s not looking pretty, and I am disappointed when I wake up with a pulse 28 hours later.

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