“Healing takes time, and asking for help is a courageous step.” – Mariska Hargitay.
Having had years of high rents, short stays, short term jobs. I found my place in devoting all my time, effort and emotions in supporting other people. I worked with people affected by homelessness, addiction, relationship breakdowns and mental health challenges. Running a catering social enterprise for 4 years, I thought I’d found a purpose and a means of apologising and making up for feeling a burden my entire life. I had created a lot of outlets to fill my head with, to make my over-thinking into something more productive.
Sat in the waiting room, with two policemen and a very thin looking woman. She was in her pyjamas from the waist down and slurping tea out of a hard plastic cup, handles on both sides and a lid. Her knees were pressed inward together, she was shaking and looking up at the TV screen. Tea-time quiz show on, the three of them shouting out the answers.
I’d been ordered here by the kind woman at the Edinburgh Crisis Centre, who had met me late one afternoon and called me last thing every night and first thing every morning, suicide watch. I’d had to tell my employees and volunteers that I was away to a meeting and would be uncontactable. I’d had tears in my eyes and was unable to sound convincing in where I was going, how I was feeling, all the answers that people need from you, face to face, via text, via email, via conference call, on the telephone, in writing, feedback forms, 5-star reviews. I had no wish to provide them anymore.
There was some odd acceptance this time around, that the tangle of my life, nobody could unravel. Anybody could look upon it and understand that it was like a painting where there was no white space left, that far too many unattractive colours had been introduced, paper warped with water and everything bleeding together. It was no longer worth wasting resources upon. They could not suggest a solution different from my own.
Despite all that, I walked up to the entrance, looking down on the tiny stones split like fireworks with the streetlights thrown on the wet path. Hypnotised, exhausted, I did not feel like I had a right to be here. The receptionist, slipping me the details form underneath the glass, was kind to me when I couldn’t write, late January freeze had seized up my fingers. The woman who came through to greet me, wanted to know if I was OK with the 3-hour anticipated waiting time and was I sure this service was the right one for me.
She took me through to the lady with the police officers and the quiz show. There I was shivering with cold, sheer exhaustion and shame. Sure, I was going to be told that I should practice self-care, more hot baths, more chocolate, herbal tea and a hypnotic CBT mixed tape.
The wee woman was taken in, the police officers with her. A couple of hours passed, and out she came holding a separated tray of food. She looked happy enough now, the policeman said that neighbours had alerted them, worried about her wellbeing and she was there for a psychological examination, to determine if she should be living alone. I wonder what had gone by, kids? A partner? Where were they? Did she have friends? How is someone left to deteriorate to the point that nobody thinks to come round or take her out.
I got into the interview room, least that’s what it looked like to me. Something off of a crime drama. A Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) awaited me, along with a student doctor. I went through how I got to be sitting there, my work, my grief, cutting the side of my neck with a razor blade from an ‘eco-friendly reusable razor’.
“We’ve looked through your information before chatting with you Fiona and we can see you have a long history of mental health problems and accessing services, and some family history too” Funny, you forget that. You find some coping mechanisms, or it just sort of goes some reason, out of nowhere, it goes away for a bit and you are relieved you don’t have to identify yourself as permanently incapable of stability or happiness. You are content to just forget about it all and make no effort whatsoever to remember that there are certain things that you might do, might happen that will bring you right back there again. You did not have an epiphany, a happily ever after. It's back. Still, there are times when you wish for it to return, you feel you lost something, the safety in your own darkness and the silent affinity with those who just ‘can’t’.
“Fiona, you are severely fatigued, you are burnt out and you are severely depressed. We need you to take time away from work, to do something that you enjoy, something not for someone you grieve for, not for someone you think you should be helping, not for the greater good of mankind, something just for you.” “We want you to take one of these tablets tonight, one tomorrow and we want you to sleep and not have anything to do with your job, we are referring you to a grief counsellor and will contact your GP for an emergency appointment”
What the CPN was asking me, seemed so unbelievably unattainable. As someone who believed they were incapable of achieving happiness and keeping relationships, I had devoted everything to ensuring that others could. I could no longer find happiness, or support others to find it either. It was the beginning of the end of my rise to martyrdom.
Exactly a year on from that time, I still ask too many questions in my head, I still over-think everything to the point where it means nothing at all anymore. I feel so much empathy and grief that I have periods where I just don’t feel anything about anyone, or anything.
However, I’m a lot more prepared to protect myself from potentially draining situations and I’m no longer moulding myself into someone I think that I should be. The shame has gone. The feeling that I need to smile because someone else’s grief is always worse than my own.
We hear so much about mental health awareness, wellness, mindfulness. It usually, for those of who suffer challenges with our mental health, feels tokenistic, for someone else and belittling the overly complex thoughts and changes in our brains that others can never fully comprehend.
I finally realise that it is OK to say that none of this is for me, it doesn’t help, I sometimes find it insulting and I have my own ways of coping. In fact it is an additional challenge just to shield myself from all that stuff that people tell me will help. I’ve finally accepted how I feel and think, how I work or don’t work and I’m not exhausting myself trying to change or to see it as something I want to erase. The depth in which I think is now something I like about myself and it’s a major quality for me, if I meet someone else who thinks too much too.
“There is no one-size-fits-all narrative, everyone’s path winds in different ways.” – Sarah McBride.