I’m an insomniac. I’ve been one for years, ever since I found my daughter dead in her cot in the early hours of the morning. She died in the night, and hence I associate darkness with death, and because I’m afraid of losing anyone else in the night while I’m asleep, my brain keeps me awake; on alert so that I will be ready and I won’t suffer another loss. Stupid, isn’t it? Maybe, but that’s not what this is all about. I’ll leave that to the book to tell you Lucy’s story, but you know it anyway.
That’s why I was awake late last night, scrolling idly through my twitter feed because other people, in other lives, in other worlds – they’re also awake scrolling idly through their twitter feeds. It whiles away the long, and most lonely hours. I’d laid my head on my pillow and immediately two images crowded my already over – wrought brain – the first was Lucy. Lucy – cold, and growing stiff beneath her My Little Pony cot quilt and the brightly coloured merry go round mobile with its plastic circus animals; it’s little lullaby tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star tinkling ironically in the background. Always Lucy – her little fists tightened around thumbs as she fell into eternal sleep; her tiny cupid bow rosebud lips slightly apart, and tinged with the pale blue pallor of death. Then Lucy faded, as she has so sadly faded over the years which separate us in life and death and in her place – your face. Your strong jaw; your liquid kind eyes crinkling at the edges, when those lips smile your sad smile; your sort of floppy, preppy hair – brown, with a reddish tinge which you can only see in certain light. Your living, breathing, beautiful face came drifting in front of Lucy’s beautiful, but cold blue dead one, and I knew that sleep had left me for another night.
So, there I was last night, in bed scrolling through my twitter feed when I caught your tweet about your PTSD, and your anxiety and your depression. When I first met you, I had no idea that someone with these illnesses – I was one of those who never quite understood that mental health could get ‘ill’, but goodness, I understand now. But when I first met you I didn’t realise that someone who was dealing with mental illness could look so together, so self-assured, so confident. I didn’t realise that these things were the mask you wore to hide what was really going on in your head. Over the months I’ve known you and we’ve been together, of course, this little trio have introduced themselves and lately, I feel like I’ve been fighting them to get you back. When I caught your tweet, I sat up in bed, and read the post over and over again and wondered why it was blurry; and then I realised that it was because you had made everything that you’ve been going through tumble from my eyelids and cascade down my cheeks like a million muddled up emotions contained in each salty tear that dropped onto my quivering lips.
Twitter. The place where we met – the lonely; the frightened; the desolate; the crazy; the weird; the misfits; the sad; the damaged – we’re all there – encaptured in android, escaping from a life that has somehow let us down. I wonder if Jack Dorsey and his co – founders ever envisaged that their app – to give instant connectivity, the sharing of ideas and information without barriers in 140 characters – would ever become the flagship of the fallen instead of the bright, shiny happy place I’m sure Mr Dorsey would have wanted it to be.
Yet as much as I decry it, Twitter is my escape from myself. I have a love / hate relationship with Twitter which I think most users do and those brave enough to hate it to the point where they don’t need it, well; they’re the lucky ones if you ask me. They’re the ones who sign out forever and never return after thirty days. They disappear back into the realms of real life and live it whichever way they can. They’re the lucky ones.
I was lucky, though and not because I signed out – although I had thought about it so very often after five long and confusing years of tweeting (what the hell am I doing it for?) – I was lucky because I met you on Twitter. I won’t go into the fairytale of how we got to know each other – that’s our story for now and it’s not the time to tell it.
Going back to me in my bedroom last night, reading your post over and over again and seeing with absolute clarity – even though by now I couldn’t actually see a thing for the tears – for the first time, I saw with absolute clarity, everything that you’d ever tried to express to me in words that just couldn’t be spoken.
I remembered that day in early January when you phoned me and out of the blue asked to see me. An unscheduled meeting – since our first date, we’d fallen more or less into a pattern of seeing each other once a week – but this – this Tuesday meeting was out of the ordinary and for you to phone me and ask to see me, well, I knew it had to be something important and you confirmed it by telling me that there was something which you wanted me to know. You cannot imagine how scared I was at that meeting – you said ‘Let’s go to the Coffee Shop where we first met’ and I wondered if that Coffee shop was going to be the beginning and the ending of my beautiful romance with you.
Far from it being an ending – it was a beginning again, because you said that as you knew that we had something that had outgrown casual – as you knew I was becoming important to you and that we may have something that would carry us into a future neither of us had ever expected – you told me about your PTSD and you told me the reasons why you suffered from it. I won’t go into those reasons – they are your story, and yours alone; but I’ll never forget two things about when you told me – the first is the uncertainty on you face – you told me later on in a What’s App message that you thought I’d turn tail and run. The second thing I remember is your hands, clenched together so tightly into one ball that I could see your knuckles turning white, a demonstration of how nervous you were and how much it was costing you to tell me about what your carried with you every day.
Of course, I didn’t turn tail and run. I took those clenched hands and I told you thank you for telling me, but that isn’t going to make a single bit of difference to me – in fact, it only made me love you more. Yes, love you. Even so early on in our relationship, I knew that I loved you. So I didn’t turn tail and run. I stayed and our relationship developed to what we have now.
What do we have now? Right at this moment, I don’t really know because we’re living through my introduction to the two other off stage characters that inhabit your life – your anxiety and your depression. I’m not sure which out of the three of them I despise the most.
Until I met you, I had the impression, like most of us do, that anxiety is that little worried feeling you get from time to time – you know that little unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach when you receive a final demand for the phone bill; or you’re waiting for the results of an exam or the slight apprehension you have with a visit to the dentist. I had no idea that anxiety would take a grip over your day to day life in a way that made you unable to function. I did not know that every day you would battle with feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness in the most common situations. I did not know that it would cause you difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, a feeling of everything rushing at you, overwhelming you, giving your palpitations. I did not know that you would tense every muscle in your body, feel sick, feel dizzy. I did not know that your jiggling leg and your eyes which darted everywhere – you are very rarely able to look at me straight in the eye – were physical manifestations of the illness which I could not see. Your anxiety gives you a sensory overload that your brain and body fight to cope with. It’s a result of chemical imbalances giving you too much of one thing and not enough of another. I know now that there are triggers – but sometimes even you cannot recognise them, so what chance did I have?Your PTSD hit me like a smack on the jaw. You’d warned me this might happen as our relationship progressed, and feelings edged their way into our fun days and much more fun nights, you started to show signs of strain but suddenly one night on WhatsApp, you said to me ‘I need to get my head straight’ and I was introduced to my first experience of dealing with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is complex and debilitating and it can affect every aspect of a person’s life; and looking back on our relationship now, I hadn’t realised then that even something which is pleasant and fun and loving and lovely can actually cause an ‘episode’ and the more we saw each other, and the closer we became as a result of our relationship, the more evident your PTSD became. Only I didn’t see it, until you closed down on me completely after telling me you had to go and see a therapist. I waited five long weeks, cooling down our relationship – not seeing you, sending you minimal messages on WhatsApp. I lapped up every bit of written advice and information I could on the subject, so that I could be a better girlfriend to you, and so that I could support you until you finally agreed to see me one Friday quite recently.
We had a wonderful day, or so I thought. We were close again, or so I thought. Our relationship had a chance, or so I thought. I thought that because I was willing to put aside my feelings in order to concentrate on yours, I thought I could make you better and ‘fix’ things – but you can’t fix someone with mental illness. I can’t put your mind in a cast and hope that the broken bits attach themselves to the strong bits and that suddenly, you’ll be able to put aside all your fears and simply love me. I understand that now, a little too late, perhaps.
You’ve been cool ever since that day, and me, being the eternal optimist, I saw that as you simply needing breathing space because you were afraid that you were going to slip into a depression. You’d told me months ago that this could happen, and that you were pretty horrible when it did. Again, I had a misconception about depression – I thought it was a bit like having an off day, when you feel a little sad. I didn’t know that depression is a dark, empty cavernous hole that sucks the daylight out of your life and makes you feel worthless. I didn’t understand that it would fatigue you to the point where even the simplest of tasks would seem unachievable. I didn’t realise that your manic socialising on social media was another mask, another way in which you disguised your sadness which doesn’t go away; your not being able to enjoy our relationship any more; your avoidance of me; your sleepless nights; your feelings of guilt and worthlessness. I didn’t know that depression wasn’t something that a good talking too and a cajoling to ‘get on with it’ wouldn’t cure.
I know that now, ever since I got your message this morning telling me you were sorry, but our relationship was making you ill. You explained that you’d fought your mental health issues for years, but that just lately you seemed to be going into a downwards spiral, that you wanted to stop before it overtook you completely. You spoke a bit about how you envisage your future, once you are able to escape from your past but sadly, you didn’t tell me whether or not I could be part of that future – that bright, happy thing that I know we could have because we’ve seen glimpses of it when we’ve been together.
You’ve promised me a call, to talk, probably to say goodbye, but so far the call hasn’t been made and so that’s why I’m sitting here, scrolling idly and sadly through Twitter and forgive me when I say this, but that’s why I can’t see my tweets for my tears….
©Amy J Steinberg 2017