I was talking to a darling friend who has depression. We said what a shame it is that some people don’t understand mental illness, or are scared of it. Because it’s hard enough when you’re struggling, let alone when you’re too scared to talk in case you’re judged.
So, let’s talk.
I know a little, just a little, of the bleakness of depression, having staggered through the dark for a year or so after my father died. Life lost its colour. And it wasn’t that I felt bad, it’s more that I didn’t feel anything. And, eventually, I just didn’t want to be alive any more.
Realising that something was desperately wrong, I did try and talk about it, but I chose the wrong person to talk to. This person told me to pull myself together, to get on with it, that I’d been sad enough for long enough.
Unfortunately, telling someone who’s depressed to pull themselves together is as helpful as telling someone with two broken arms to do a press-up. Hearing that I apparently wasn’t depressed—merely “selfish”—was enough to put me off seeking help anywhere else, which is a shame as I’d probably have recovered sooner with support.
But I did get better, for which I am profoundly grateful. As I say, I know a little of depression, so have nothing but deep respect for my friends who live with it as part of their everyday lives.
So. Mental illness. It’s just illness. Let’s be kind to each other, life’s hard enough as it is. Much love. Xxxx
Many years ago, I had a rather intense friendship with a male friend. There was never, ever anything sexual in it (he was gay, and I’m definitely not male) but it was such an intense friendship that it bordered on the weird.
One night, round at his, he asked me if I wanted to check out a chatroom (it was 1998, entertainment options were limited in Hartlepool).
I’ll try pretty much anything once*, so cheerfully agreed.
He created a new profile for me, said he’d found someone for me to chat to, and gave me the keyboard.
Turns out, it was a cybersex chatroom.
He sat behind me as I typed. At first, it was all giggly good fun, but then I started feeling rather guilty. The chap I was talking to was under the mistaken impression that he was talking to a horny bloke—thanks to the profile my friend had created for me—and it seemed quite unfair to keep leading the poor guy on. Plus, I felt rather awkward answering questions about my fictional penis. So I turned around to tell my mate I’d had enough…
…only to realise that he was happily… err… ahhh… how shall I put it?… entertaining himself.
He had his eyes closed in ecstasy, so I slipped out of the room as quietly as I could. Then I slipped out of the flat—and Hartlepool—as fast as I could.
Neither of us either mentioned it again.
*Having said that, I’ve never eaten KFC. Not for snob reasons, I’m just not that keen on chicken.
I promised to tell you why I left one rental place after a week*.
It was a huge house in Darlington, owned by an elderly couple. They lived there, and rented out their spare rooms to idiots.
I was one of them.
I went round for a visit, one morning, before agreeing to rent. It seemed nice enough, and the landlords were as sweet as pie.
Apparently that was for show. When I moved in, they were both as drunk as skunks. And the landlady went through all my possessions*.
It was a large house. The wife slept on the ground floor in her bedroom, and her husband’s bedroom was on the first floor. I had the bedroom next to his.
All was mildly weird (they both seemed permanently pissed), but vaguely OK until one night, I was woken by shrieking from his room. He was yelling for his wife like the world was ending.
“MARY! MARY! MARY!” (for that was not my landlady’s name, but it’ll do for now.) “MARY! MARY! MARY!”
I was out of bed and banging on his door in an instant: “Are you alright Mr. X?” No answer, just more screaming “MARY! MARY! MARY!”.
I ran downstairs, banged on my landlady’s door. She charged upstairs and into her husband’s room; he was still yelling and she started screaming too.
Ten minutes later, an ambulance arrived, and the paramedics charged up the stairs. Apparently my landlord is utterly sozzled, pissed himself, fell out of bed, can’t get up. I could hear the ambulance crew trying to help him, but he started screaming abuse at them, swearing, lashing out. “We need your permission before we can help you, Sir.” “FUCK OFF! FUCK YOU ALL!”
Eventually, unable to help him, they left. As did his wife, storming off back downstairs.
But still he was screaming for her, “MARY! MARY! MARY!” over and over.
I bang on her door again and she shouts back to just ignore him: “I’m sick of the crazy bastard. He did this last week too. And the week before he chased me around the garden with a knife. I’m going to leave him.”
At 4am he finally stopped screaming. Not that I slept a wink after that.
The next morning at breakfast, Mrs Landlady handed around polaroids she took of her husband the previous night. Pissed out his mind, in a pool of his own piss and poop even, stark-bollock naked.
She said she was handing round the polaroids “to teach him a lesson”.
I told her I’d be moving out that day, and that I’d be back at the weekend to collect the rest of my possessions. Fifteen minutes later, I’d grabbed a bag of essentials and was on the way to spend the rest of the week crashing in a friend’s spare room.
Saturday came. I loaded my things into my car, handed over the keys and asked her for my deposit back. She refused. When I asked why, she told me that it was because her husband was a “dear man who was taken a little poorly” and apparently I was trying to take advantage of them. “If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life”, she said, “then count yourself lucky.”**
I was steaming at the time, absolutely furious. For years, I couldn’t even think of the pair of them without a rage descending. But, that was a long time ago. These days, I just feel sorry for them. They were both obviously ill, both tied to one another, dragging each other down. I wish them respite, from each other and from the bottle.
A friend was crashing over at mine. He was sleeping on my sofa-bed, in the lounge (with a door that was broken and couldn’t be closed properly).
It was bed-time, so I said goodnight to my mate and then waltzed off to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses. Then—realising that I’d forgotten to tell him something important—I wandered back into the lounge without bothering to put my glasses on. I really am short-sighted, so my friend was just a fuzzy blob.
So, I was chatting away at him, but he was acting rather strangely and not really replying, which seemed a bit weird. After a few minutes, I squinted a bit more at him and realised that he wasn’t just a fuzzy blob, he was an entirely pink fuzzy blob. And why would he be entirely pink? Because he’s not wearing any… ohhhhh….! I stopped talking mid-word, and hurried out of the room.
It must have been ever so odd for my mate: he was getting changed for bed, completely starkers, and I’d wandered in and struck up a conversation with him like nothing unusual was happening.
I was sitting in my friend’s lounge when the first snowflakes started falling. It was getting late, and it was a 60 mile drive home. Usually, I’d have crashed on their sofa, but I was working the next morning and needed to get home. Driving made sense.
It didn’t take long to regret that decision. The snow fell, heavier now. I struggled up hills, the wheels spinning. I was in the “Divorce Car”, the car I’d been left with when my marriage broke down; a car I hadn’t actually wanted, and couldn’t really afford to run as it was an ostentatious, petrol-guzzling monster of a thing. Plus, it was Rear-Wheel Drive, which I didn’t know is disastrous for snow.
I was now too far into the journey to turn back; at least I was near the motorway, which I assured myself would be gritted, and safer. I was wrong.
It was nearly midnight by the time I got onto the M25, the snow still falling so quickly and so heavily. The carriageway was icy, and I lost control of my car several times, the steering wheel jerking under my hands. I was crying as I drove, muttering an incantation that I hoped would save me (although I don’t know who I was offering it up to, given that I’m quite cheerfully atheist): “I can’t die. I’m a mum, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, please don’t let me die.”
Then, I was catapulted across the carriageway.
The car spinning, in freefall, towards the central reservation.
Time slowed: “So, this is how it ends.” I thought. I apologised to my kids, that I wouldn’t be there to see them growing up. I thought of my mum and my sister. I wondered briefly if there was an afterlife, and if I was going to be reunited with my dad. I even took a moment to be sorry that I wouldn’t be going on a second date with a promising suitor*.
The car stopped, inches from the barrier, facing the wrong way into the traffic.
I exhaled, and burst into tears again.
I’d been driving for over 3 hours at this point. I gingerly turned the car around, kept driving, crying constantly now, and chanting my new mantra, “Please don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die.”
I eventually managed to wrestle the car off the motorway and, slowly, slowly, some of the way home.
At 4am, I admitted defeat. I couldn’t get the car up a hill, couldn’t turn round to go back down, couldn’t do anything other than abandon the car and walk the final 4 miles home.
As I walked, I fell into step with a man. We started chatting, as you do in weird situations; normal social conventions don’t apply. His name was Jamie and he was an interesting chap, ran an art gallery in town, lived over the other side of London but had got stuck visiting family. We chatted about this and that until we arrived at a house.
“I’m sorry I can’t walk you home”, he said, “but this is where I’m staying tonight.” He reached into his jacket, then handed me a business card, “Text me when you’re home so I know you got back safely”.
I got home some time after 5am. My Converse had frozen to my feet. I cried with relief for a while, and then collapsed into sleep.
Four years later, I was chatting with a lovely lady that I knew, a little. This time, we got onto the subject of art. She told me it’s her family’s passion, and that her son Jamie runs an art gallery in town.
“Oh”, I said, “I wonder if he remembers me? We met the last time it snowed”.
*As it turns out, there was no second date, for reasons that will probably be explained in another post.
Steve: “Hello, it’s Steve from Scottish Power
here. I understand you’re thinking of leaving us for another utility company because they’ve offered you a better price?”
Me: “I’m not thinking, I’ve already switched. And it’s nothing to do with price, it’s because your customer service has been terrible.”
Steve: “But the price must have had something to do with it?”
Me: “Really, no. I’ve had a number of problems with my account since I’ve been with you, and the people at customer service have been friendly enough, but totally incompetent with it.”
Steve: “Can you give me a few more details please?”
Me: [there follows 10 minutes of me detailing numerous incidents where Scottish Power have totally failed to sort out problems]
Steve: “Fair enough, I totally get why you’d want to leave us. But, if I offered you a really good deal on your fuel, would you consider staying?”
Steve: “A really really good deal?”
Me: “Seriously, this isn’t about the money. It’s about the customer service.”
Steve: “Is there anything I can do to make you reconsider your decision to leave?”
Me: “No. There really isn’t.”
Steve: “But it’s my job to stop you leaving.”
Me: “Steve, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s your company’s customer service.”
He said he understood, and we hung up. But still, I hope Steve is OK. I hope he goes on to find other customers (and that they get treated better than I did). I hope he learns to love again, or whatever.
I was so pregnant that I waddled. Everything ached. Although exhausted, I was still looking forward to supper with friends.
As I reached the restaurant, a man stopped me. He was lounging against the wall; later, I realised that he was probably too drunk to stand up straight.
“You’re pregnant!”, he slurred.
“Yes. I’m pregnant.”
I tried to walk past him, but he grabbed my wrist and started telling me how he’d never wanted kids, that he’d make a terrible father, that he wished he’d loved someone enough to have children with them, that he always wanted to have a son; the sentences clashing, contradicting and bumping against each other. He talked and talked at me, while I thought of my friends sat inside, and wondered how to get myself free. He held my wrist, talking and talking.
I suffer from extreme politeness. I stood there and nodded, horribly aware that in being polite to this man, I was being rude to my friends as the time got later and later. And then:
“I have to touch your bump.”
Now, I’m not comfortable being touched at the best of times. My skin is quite sensitive and it can be rather overwhelming. And when it’s someone I don’t know, I get really uncomfortable.
“Really? Do you have to?”
“Yes. Let me touch your bump and then you can go.”
Today Me is typing this with shame and anger. Today Me wants to go back in time to that moment and shout at the guy, leave her alone, let her go. I wish I’d handled it differently. But I didn’t, I muttered, “OK”. I was desperate to go and it seemed like a decent trade-off.
He let go of my wrist, but grabbed my top and started trying to put his other hand up inside it.
Enough polite. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“I want to touch your bump.”
“OVER MY CLOTHES.”
“No. It has to be your bare skin or it doesn’t count.”
“NO. I NEED TO GO NOW.”
I forcibly removed his hand from my top.
“Fine. But take my email address. You need to tell me when you have the baby what sex it is. But don’t bother telling me if it’s a girl. I only want to hear if it’s a boy.”
I waited, furious, humiliated, hot-cheeked, while he scribbled down an address on a scrap of paper and handed it to me.
I joined my friends at the table, apologised for being late, and waited to stop shaking.
I’d left my worldly possessions with my new landlady. It was a pretty big move; I was also changing jobs and cities. I’d finished my contract on the Friday, and schlepped my belongings the 170 miles to my new home the same day. There wasn’t time to unpack, only to unload the car before collapsing into bed. The next morning, an early flight for a quick holiday inbetween jobs.
When I returned home, my new landlady greeted me. She looked particularly pleased with herself: “I saw you hadn’t had time to sort through your things, so I thought I’d make you feel at home!”
She’d been through my boxes—through every single thing I owned—and taken it upon herself to unpack my belongings.
Every single thing I owned.
It’s one thing when someone takes it upon themselves to unbox your CDs and books and pop them on a shelf for you.
It’s another thing entirely when someone you’ve only met once previously has gone through your knickers, your bras and even your tampons, and arranged them for you.
She was so thrilled, with what she saw as a really kind act, that I couldn’t bear to tell her I was actually pretty upset by the whole thing.
I wound up moving out a week later, but that was for completely different reasons. I’ll tell you why another time.