“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Change is always good.”
“What doesn’t kill you, makes your stronger.”
I’m sure there’s a proper, clever term for the kind of things well-meaning people say to you when life has gone utterly tits-up but I think “utter wank” is probably better and to the point. I don’t actually think stuff happens for reason, as that removes any element of free-will from our lives, a notion that runs through both religious and secular thinking. Change can be good – like moving to a new city or getting a haircut – but it can also be bad – losing a toe or getting a tumour. As for the non-fatal but still shit elements of life being positive, I can see some logic in that. We live, we learn, we grow. But there’s such a thing as scar tissue, as PTSD, as just plain old suffering. Who wants to go through hell just to come out of it a little bit wiser? I’d rather stay stupid without the pain, the grief and the sudden weight fluctuations.
This is not meant to be a pissing contest in misery but it might get a laugh. I’m sitting at my laptop in my flat over a post office with my mum’s ashes in a wooden box under the desk. To add an extra flourish, the box is in a large silver gift bag that the funeral directors gave me when I went to collect it. It looks like I’ve been shopping for a large hat. I keep talking to the box as I walk past, on my way into the kitchen for more coffee. I felt bad earlier because I’d dumped something on top of it, which is not only untidy but disrespectful.
It’s the middle of August. At the beginning of May I lost my job. A couple of weeks later my parents went on holiday to Wales and my mum, Julie, fell over and broke her hip. She was taken to hospital and had an emergency hip replacement. But things went from bad to worse, with a blood clot appearing on her lung. She was taken to ICU and had to be put on a ventilator. Her condition worsened and a week after the accident my dad and I had to give permission for her life support to be withdrawn. She died twenty minutes later.
She’d been sedated when they put her on the ventilator and never woke up. I was the last one to speak to her, just before they put her under, and I can hear her voice now: small and frightened and desperate to tell me how much she loved me and my dad. I count that experience as both a blessing and a curse.
We had her funeral a couple of weeks’ later and over one hundred people came, with some friends and family driving hundreds of miles to attend. It was actually quite joyous and I felt lucky to have so many people around me (and my dad) who cared.
But after that, reality kicked in and I started to feel the strain of looking after my old fella. Not that he’s not perfectly capable of cooking and cleaning – he’s always been a domestic kind of chap. But more just checking up on him. It sounds like I resent it but I don’t for one single second, it’s just that my heart breaks every time I think of him on his own, without his wife of 54 years. And I miss my mum.
Around the time of my job-loss, I received confirmation that my divorce had been finalised. I’ve got the letter here somewhere, with a kebab-stained fingerprint on. Louise and I separated in 2017 and I live just around the corner from her and our three kids. The divorce was what we both wanted but it’s still a significant thing to have it there in your hand in black and white (with the aforementioned kebab stain).
I turned 50 in May too. It’s not that big a deal – I’ve never been the sort who goes overboard on birthdays and jets off to exotic destinations for the weekend (bitter, moi?) – but it’s still a milestone. As it was, I spent the weekend finalising my job departure.
So 50th birthday, job gone, divorced, mum dying suddenly. That was May 2019.
Now it’s August I’ve got into a routine of talking to dad every day and seeing him a few times a week (I’m round there for tea tonight) and he’s bought himself a new car and is shopping for a mahoosive telly. He’s doing a bloody good job of getting on with things, as you might expect from someone who grew up during the war and was an evacuee.
I however, am not made of such stern stuff. My money has run out and I’ve still not secured a new job. I’ve applied for around half a dozen and had two interviews, each of around 90 minutes, but didn’t get either. I’ve been doing some casual work and a bit of freelance magazine stuff and I’ve cleared my credit card bill but things are looking a bit hairy.
I’ve been on anti-depressants – Sertraline – since I moved out in 2017. The tablets help me deal with panic attacks and anxiety, a kind of adrenaline rush that hits particularly hard first thing in the morning. Paradoxically, these “rushes” also stop me getting out of bed, at least without a struggle. A lot of people talk about mental health, which is a good thing, but I’d always assumed it was something that happened to other people. Turns out, I am other people.
The Sertraline might take the edge off, and I wouldn’t want to be without it, but I still get hit every so often. I find myself needing naps at random times of day and want to hide away inside a lot. I had a half hour kip on the sofa earlier on and woke up feeling like crap.
Recently, I’ve started to have really worrying thoughts. The light at the end of the tunnel has gone out. I feel like my life is totally out of my control. Think the Truman Show or something biblical like Job. I want to hold my hands up and say, “I give in, you win.” I don’t think I’m about to jump off a bridge but I think I might be about to think about it. Which I’ve never thought about before.
So what do I do? This. Word after word. Sentence after sentence. Paragraph after paragraph. Getting the thoughts out and onto the screen. It doesn’t make the shit go away but it contains it, cages it. It’s very, very hard to tell people just how bad I am feeling. Won’t I sound stupid? How will they even know how to respond? I’ve got my dad but I don’t want to put any more strain on him. There has been someone in my life for the last couple of years but I’ve fucked that up. How can I tell mates who have their own lives to deal with that I’m at breaking point?
How do you?