1997 / 2007 / 2017

A retrospective.

CW: if you’re suffering from poor mental health, sometimes reading the experiences of others can send you into a tailspin. Please take care when reading this. It’s mostly reflective, but still pretty raw.

1997

“So I’ll change schools. I don’t mind.”

I meant it. Listening to my parents discuss which school my younger sibling should attend, realising the best school for them would be the *other* school, the one in the opposite direction from mine, I piped up with a suggestion – the suggestion which, I knew, would solve the problem for everyone concerned.

Later on, mam came to ask me if I meant it.
She said, “you must have been thinking about this decision for a long time.”

A year before this conversation, I had simply… stopped. Stopped everything. Talking, socialising, doing any work in school – even eating, for the most part. I had no appetite for any of it. Nobody really noticed; the ones who noticed didn’t seem to mind. I still pulled off decent marks in school tests. I wasn’t making any fuss or causing any bother.

I read a lot of books, in the corner, by myself.

For years afterwards, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of this phase in my life. I knew I was getting something badly wrong. When I heard the discussion about schools, I saw my chance to start again – to bury the festering mess of this year and act like it had never happened. And to this day, as far as most people are concerned, it never did.

2007

“So we’ll move to London. I don’t mind.”

Alicante wasn’t working out. Our tiny, beautiful apartment with its boundless view of sea and sky held a lonely and frustrated life. We hadn’t managed to make friends here, not like I had in Murcia, where every weekend brought some shared adventure – rock-climbing, local fiestas, band practice, dancing until dawn… Even the loneliness felt better in Murcia, sitting in an old-fashioned bar with a café con anis, reading the newspaper, writing, writing, writing.
But Alicante wasn’t working out.

My partner wanted a career in the civil service. I wanted… nothing, I wanted nothing. I had lost the ability to want. Some days, I made it as far as the market to buy vegetables for lunch, then collapsed with exhaustion on the sofa. Some days I made it as far as the floor and sat gazing numbly out to sea. Whenever I could, I taught English language classes to students and businesspeople. At the end of the month I hunted for coins down the back of the sofa, hoping to scrape together enough money to buy pasta, miserably aware that I contributed so little to our bills.

The future that I thought I wanted – a small house by the Mediterranean with fruit trees in the yard, a comfortable teaching job, a desk where I could do my writing – was swallowed in that fog. I fucked it up. My partner didn’t want it. I didn’t want anything. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I started again.

We left Spain that summer. I haven’t really been back since.
It still hurts, a little.

2017

Witches make their own luck.

This has been my mantra. I’m not even sure why; I’ve never thought of myself as a witch before – but there’s something more rooted, more wild and wily and resourceful in the word “witch” than in any name I’ve called myself before. I like it. I think I’ll keep it.

I walked out on my last job. I swore it would be the last job I walked out on. It’s harder in your thirties. But when I found myself in an airless office above Manchester, being told that I “obviously hadn’t tried very hard” to kill myself – by the occupational health service whose help I had requested – I came up against a hard boundary I didn’t know I still had in me. I walked out.

And then –

Nothing. For months. Months of healing, of gentle walks in the hills, of medicine-making and tarot-reading and sleeping and reading and cuddling the dog. How lovely that sounds. How raw and ugly and difficult it felt; the long, drawn-out process of recovery.

I was determined to get it right this time.

I read my journals from the previous year, felt anger for the drowning woman in those pages who couldn’t set her boundaries, couldn’t ask for help.
I felt anger for the schoolgirl who stopped eating, stopped playing, stopped working – anger that no adults had noticed, anger that nobody had helped. Anger at the shame she swallowed, at the gaping wounds she’d patched up as best she could with a new start and a brave face.

I didn’t start again. This time, I went back.

I wrote to my former tutor, asking if I could resume my studies. I sent my CV to archives all over the North of England. I met a former manager for drinks, told her about walking out on the job, asked her advice – all with the unspoken question, did I get this wrong? And she offered the encouragement I needed, gave practical advice, bought more drinks. No, you didn’t get this wrong, you needed and deserved support. And, at last, I allowed myself to be supported.

And now it’s December. I have a brand new job, in the same old career I had been working towards when the fog set in again. I found my way back.

I also have insomnia, “stress belly” and some fairly fierce deadlines to meet for my studies, not to mention a distressingly low cash flow (I’ve kept my Saturday job to ease the transition from weekly to monthly wages; it pays enough to cover my train fares for the week with just under £10 left over for emergencies). It’s not exactly a happy ending; more a work in progress. But it’s the work I wanted. Along with the writing, the divination, the gardening and medicine-making; I want all of this in my life.

Just typing that feels amazing.

I want.

Not much – not material things; not even grand experiences. Just to breathe, and to eat, and to touch; to stretch my muscles on these wild moors, and plunge my hands into the dark earth; to read and write, to speak and listen and be heard. To make a contribution.
I want, I am.

And, yes, I’ll be prepared for 2027…

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Author: angharadlois

"I'm only interested in everything." Profile pic by the prodigiously talented http://www.alexandra-becker.com/

6 thoughts on “1997 / 2007 / 2017”

    1. Thanks Greg 🙂 It’s a fairly introspective post, but after reflecting on the reasons I haven’t written in a while, this felt like it needed writing. A lot of my blocks in writing seem to come from fear of exposing parts of myself, so this is a kind of experimental exposure, letting in light on some of the painful parts; seeing how bad it really is…
      Balance is tricky, but I just need to keep remembering it’s dynamic not static, and some wobbling is inevitable!

  1. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to a lot of this. Noticing things were wrong at school. In my case I got told I didn’t qualify for help by an NHS psychiatrist because I hadn’t yet tried to kill myself even though I’d thought about it and in spite of a history of anxiety, depression and self-harm. I’ve never been able to hold a ‘proper’ job for more than a couple of years. Working within the system makes me feel like I’m losing my soul. It drives me mad. I’m currently doing ok as I’m living off savings at my parent’s house and devoting all my time to my spiritual path and writing which is what I feel like I’m here in the world to do. As soon as being able to do that is compromised by having to work to make money I end up really anxious and hating myself and the world and being no good for anything. Ditto the ‘stress belly’ – I got diagnosed with IBS a while back and it gets in the way not only of ‘proper’ work but things I really want to do but get nervous about like meeting friends or running workshops or going for walks. I’m also not sure if there will ever be a happy ending, just ups and downs, and gaining knowledge in retrospect.

    1. No place in the system for prophets – but it’s through words like yours that systems change. I really believe that.

      What to do about the need to fight for help when we’re least able, I don’t know. All I can do for now is keep talking. If words change anything, they might change a culture in which mental health is poorly understood.

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