Filed under: dear diary
That’s as good as it gets.
I am okay. I have been much, much worse, but I am still not well. I have not felt great for a very long time.
I can barely recall what it feels like to feel ‘good’ but I have faith that the few remaining people I have supporting me will see me through.
Within the last year, I have lost people who I thought were structural pillars of my survival, and although moving forwards without them has been hugely painful and difficult – I am still standing.
I can do this. It’s not going to be pretty and I may even lose more friends along the way, but I have to hope that at the end, somehow, it will be worth it.
I’m feeling especially detached from life (and friends) recently.
Firstly, from J, who seems to be enjoying a huge resurgence in my consciousness courtesy of our few remaining Facebook friends.
Courtesy of mutual “friends” whom Facebook evidently deems of high importance, I feel as though I’ve recently been seeing a great deal more of J, his new girl and his new life. It feels sudden. It feels brutal.
Again, the pangs are ever more sharp; not necessarily because it’s J, but because it’s my old home, my old neighbourhood. Worse still, I’ve finally pieced together that those who I had considered friends have since moved into the same apartment complex as J and his new beau, and have subsequently cut ties with me for all intents and purposes. All, except Facebook, where I will constantly see various updates about the life I’m missing in the home I miss so desperately.
I can’t bring myself to cut ties with them outright. I know I should. I’ve hovered over the ‘Unfriend’ option for half hour intervals at a time, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a work in progress, however, because I know that seeing proof of J’s new (and improved?) life are of no benefit to me whatsoever.
At the same time, those in my life are making me feel quite secondary. It’s likely an entirely unintentional effort, but as someone who has been largely absent for a good portion of the last decade, I’m both understanding and disappointed by the fact that those I know I’ve been a good friend to in the past have felt abandoned by me and my illness over the last few years.
It’s not just about me. It’s about them, their events I couldn’t attend, their engagements and weddings I missed, and the lack of trust and faith in me that now reflects in the complete indifference to the celebration of my own deeply personal milestone.
It pains me to know that I’ve disappointed so many, and appeased so few.
There are a precious few still by my side, and for that I will be forever grateful. But part of me, a large part, admittedly, can’t help but wonder how many more there would be to share my big day with me if it hadn’t been for my illness and the resultant last-minute cancellations.
In moments of extreme stress or anxiety, I often feel like I’m watching myself in the third person, narrating my own thoughts from a distance.
This generally occurs as I lay in bed, struggling to emerge and meet the day’s responsibilities. I can hear the internal battle raging. I’m not dispassionate to the discourse – the pain is still there, of the harsh words being spoken to me, about me – but I feel disconnected from the final decision. The decision to stay in bed, to cancel plans, to shirk responsibilities and let people down.
My narrator self knows how the day should go, how I truly want the day to go. How I want to get up and start rebuilding myself, my life, and the trust in me that my loved ones have long since abandoned. But any attempts to communicate this, even scream it, at the entity that’s making the decisions simply doesn’t pierce through the dense fog between us.
The internal battles go for hours and leave me utterly drained. If there is any relief in choosing to stay in bed, or in sending an email or text message to cancel plans, it is blindingly short-lived and promptly followed by hours of guilt-fuelled tossing and turning. Any sleep I manage is fitful and broken, but the energy to remove myself from bed and rectify the situation, even belatedly, is long gone, and even my narrator self has given up by then.
Defeated and despondent.
Another day gone.
Filed under: dear diary
In between what can only be described as weeping, he meekly asked if we could remain friends.
“Of course,” I said, and he pulled me closer and cried some more.
It wasn’t long before we weren’t friends anymore, at least in Facebook terms (which are admittedly tenuous at best).
I only realised I’d been unfriended when, courtesy of his unconventionally expressed name (in non-Roman alphabet characters) I attempted to navigate to his name via mutual friends and realised, with a shock, that he was listed as little more than someone with whom I had friends in common. It could have been anything from 6 months to a year later, but after so many years together, it felt raw.
I hovered over the Friend Request button for quite some time before clicking away and closing the window in a blur of unwelcome tears.
My intention of briefly shooting him a cordial message asking him if it was at all possible to ship one of my abandoned items soon resulted in an all-out Facebook stalking episode that would have intimidated most investigative reporters.
We had been friendly. We had wished each other the best. We had posted birthday greetings and even caught up just before Christmas, where both pleasantries and gifts were exchanged. We had recognised that we had once loved each other, but that time had passed. I thought we had truly managed the impossible feat of becoming “just friends”.
But suddenly, unexpectedly, our friendship was over. It didn’t take me long to find visual proof of precisely why that was – he had moved on.
I had been replaced.
She looked very much like I had in my earliest days with J. Same hair colour, same hair style, same eyes, same skin tone – we even shared some more unusual facial features.
I irrationally felt myself wondering if the hotly-contested wall clock had been replaced just as soon as I had been.
It wasn’t difficult to piece together, through our many continued mutual friends and their many shared photographs, that my “replacement” now lived with J, in the very home we had shared together for many years.
I’m not sure if recognising my old home was quite as painful as realising how many changes had occurred since I’d left, even at a superficial level. Different prints on the wall, different furniture, different layouts. I wondered if my name was still on the lease.
For a long time, it hurt desperately. I felt that after so many years together, after being the first person he’d ever loved, I had been replaced so easily, so seamlessly. His life went on, whilst mine felt like it had been ripped out from under me.
Even now, years later, it still stings. But looking through old photos of us together, and thinking about our old life, I’ve slowly come to realise that no matter how much I loved him at the time, that time has also passed.
We are both in better places for knowing that we now seek love, support and acceptance from those who can give it to us without hesitation, without caveats.
And yet, it still hurts.
In the depths of depression, my brain seems to entirely rearrange my own perceptions of time, blurring days into weeks or even months, but occasionally providing such a vivid, searing memory that I can almost hear the clock ticking off the seconds.
In the midst of Packing, I have two distinct memories that fit into this curious latter category.
The first, perhaps not coincidentally, relates to an innocuous wall clock that had adorned three apartment walls from the first year of our relationship. Gifted to us by my best friend and her partner at the time, the clock in question was of a simple, modern design.
In my early days of packing – those rare few early days when I was lucid enough to be able to strip everything off the walls, all my posters and prints and artwork, I hesitated when I came to “our” wall clock.
I still can’t fully explain the hesitation. Yes, it had been a gift to “us,” and it took pride of place in every apartment we called home. At the same time, it was a gift from my closest friend, whilst not a single friend or relative from “his side” had ever sent us a card or even brought over their own snacks or drinks, let alone kindly giving us something, anything, we would love enough to display in our home.
I felt a righteous ownership. And yet, I hesitated.
Some part of me knew that it would be the kind of bizarre item J would contest.
I was right.
I was leaving 95% of my belongings behind, including many items J and I had bought together but also a number of items that I had owned previously. I just wanted to be gone.
But that clock, for some reason, was mine.
He noticed its absence immediately. He walked into the apartment, surveyed the blank walls, and asked where “his” clock had gone.
I informed him that I’d already packed it.
He locked his eyes on me, his lips in a grim, straight line, and asked “Why?” in a cold and unfeeling voice.
“My friend gave it to us, so I’m taking it,” I stated calmly.
“It was given to us. Why do you get to keep it?” he inquired.
I asked what his friends or family had given us in the many years we’d been together.
He was momentarily silent.
Then, with a powerful sense of conviction and entitlement, he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to take something if he didn’t have an immediate replacement. The irony of his losing me clearly didn’t occur to him in that moment. The logic of someone making far, far above the average annual salary being unable to replace a $70 clock was completely ignored.
I dug in my heels. I still don’t know why it even mattered. As I’m writing this, I can glance over and see the clock in question hanging on my wall, and I’m still slightly baffled as to how such an insignificant item became such an issue.
I’m sure there’s a metaphor or an allegory I could make here. Something about how even when I felt like I was losing everything, I was still holding onto the things that mattered, whether I knew they mattered or not. Perhaps an allusion to the fact that J was losing someone he could never replace, and was instead grasping onto an easily replaced item.
Frankly, I don’t know. I didn’t even realise at the time that I still had any fight left in me, so it continues to perplex me why I spent what little energy I had on such an inconsequential thing. And yet occasionally, I’ll glance over at that clock and be strangely proud that I was even capable of standing up for myself at that stage, so deep into my depression.
As that clock relentlessly continued to tick away, I sunk even deeper into my crippling depression, my “reinforcements” arrived, and my belongings were packed into precious few cardboard boxes. To the best of my knowledge, J stayed elsewhere for this period.
With one exception.
I remember nothing else of that day. Whether the boxes were packed, whether my mother was there, whether my flights were booked.
I remember nothing but J walking through the front door, dropping his bag and keys on the floor, walking straight towards me where I was inexplicably hovering between the bedroom and the living room, and taking me into his arms.
He held me gently, and he cried.
In retrospect, that moment compels me to defend him. It prompts me to clarify that he was never an inherently bad person, he was just incredibly bad for me. He was a good person unexpectedly trapped in a bad situation, one that he couldn’t fix, much to his frustration.
At the time, however, I simply I hugged him back, somewhat automatically, and remained blank. I felt a slight twinge of regret and sadness, mostly that I felt so little. I wasn’t physically capable of crying. I couldn’t share his grief or loss. On the whole, I felt nothing.
In between what can only be described as weeping, he meekly asked if we could remain friends.
“Of course,” I said, and he pulled me closer and cried some more.
As soon as he let me go, some time later, my memory fades back into an opaque fog. I don’t know if we even said goodbye, or if I left that minute or that day or weeks later.
But that last memory of J, of his vulnerability, his unguarded, soft side – I wouldn’t say it makes me miss him, nor the good times we spent together (of which there were many, despite what I’ve shared here). But it makes me appreciate those times, appreciate the many lessons learnt, and perhaps even more importantly, to appreciate the people in my life who make me feel important and loved every single moment of every single day, the way that J simply couldn’t.
As is my usual habit on the internet, I made the mistake of searching the #ruokday hashtag on Twitter, and subsequently came across a cynical subset of people who questioned the very worth of such a question, let alone a day dedicated to asking it. This is my response.
I remember the day perfectly, all these years later. I was 15. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, straight white teeth. A cheerleader, a class captain. Liked and respected.
And desperately depressed.
I didn’t know it at the time. Even as a teenager, I thought I was able to intellectualise my depression and write it off as nothing more than a pesky teenage phase. Long before “emo” became part of the social vocabulary, I simply assumed I was part of the emotional teenage masses.
Months slid by, my A-level grades gradually declined, and slowly but surely I started eating less, talking less, caring less. Eventually I was joining my many friends at recess and sitting in complete silence, without a word or a bite. The world continued around me.
I didn’t think anyone noticed. I didn’t want anyone to notice. I wanted to be invisible, because that’s what I felt I deserved.
I didn’t deserve any modicum of respect. I didn’t deserve popularity. I didn’t deserve to be a class captain or a cross country team member or a cheerleader. I didn’t deserve concern.
At one stage, I vaguely recall my homeroom teacher taking me aside and asking if everything was alright. I smiled and nodded and said I was fine. I know he wasn’t convinced, but there was little else he could do. As class captain, I was fulfilling everything that was expected of me, crossing every T and dotting every I.
Weeks later, I stood outside my physics class, bulky textbooks clutched to my chest, as I stared into the distance thinking of nothing in particular. The sky was a brilliant blue, the bricks of my single-storey 1960s physics lab were their usual dull red, and my eyes were as vacant as they’d been the last few months.
“Are you okay?” asked a girl I was only fleetingly familiar with until that moment. Snapped out of my daze, I looked at her as if I’d never seen another human being, paused momentarily, dropped about $300 worth of textbooks, then burst into tears.
Until that point, not only had I not realised that I wasn’t okay, but most importantly, I hadn’t realised it mattered. I truly didn’t believe anyone cared, because I didn’t think I mattered.
If ever I’ve had a light-bulb moment, that was it. After many months of my closest friends being scared and unsure of me, of why I’d changed so dramatically, it took a near-stranger to ask that one simple question and change my life.
As far as I’m concerned, this is there inherent and undeniable strength regarding RUOK Day.
My closest friends at the time knew there was something seriously wrong, but without any form of permission to ask me if I was okay, implicit or otherwise, they said nothing. They were still concerned, they still loved me, but they needed an external power to let them know it was okay to show their concern.
Even still, asking the question is just the beginning. Those asking the question in earnest need to be ready to hear the honest answer, which could so easily range from casually flippant to terrifying or heart wrenching.
Outside that physics lab, so many years ago, I wasn’t okay. It took someone to ask me outright for me to realise I wasn’t. Perhaps not incidentally, that person has been my best friend from that day forth.
And yet, when a select few people asked me yesterday if I was okay, my unintentional response was to cry.
I guess that means I’m still not okay.
That’s not the fault of those who asked me if I was okay.
Nor is it the fault of those who didn’t.
But the message of RUOK Day is that asking the question and truly listening to the response is priceless. It could greatly improve someone’s life, or even save it. The power of those 4 little letters need not be constricted by the designated day of awareness – that’s the entire point. The permission, even the incentive, to ask that one question on that one day, then empowers you to continue to ask it the remaining 364 days a year.
If you think RUOK Day isn’t worth it because it’s only one day, one question, then you’re not only missing the point of the movement – one of continued diligence and engagement, but you’re also missing the point of the power of that one simple question.
It may not mean much to you, but those 4 letters saved my life.
I very much doubt I’m alone.
Filed under: dear diary
That was February 2011, and this is my very belated response.
The truth is, I barely remember this time period. I couldn’t tell you how many weeks I was “packing” for, but I can tell you that it involved buying boxes in a burst of then-uncharacteristic strength and determination, assembling them with the greatest of care, making sure every piece of packing tape was perfectly aligned and cut perfectly square, and then delicately taking the tape off and flattening the boxes again. Over and over.
At some stage, I managed to take down all my artwork off the walls, my posters and prints and photographs. I hesitated at “our” wall clock, then added it to my small box of possessions. The walls were as blank and soulless as I felt.
There was a lot of standing, empty and confused. A lot of distant stares. The occasional dose of sitting, aimless and lost, with no sense of relaxation.
I’m not sure if I slept.
I was completely numb.
I was overwhelmed, and my response was to stand perfectly still, possibly hoping it would sort itself out around me.
To some extent, this is eventually what happened. I can’t say if it was days or weeks, or possibly even months, but J had put his foot down and he wanted me out. I didn’t blame him for it then and I can’t blame him for it now. I can’t imagine I was much more than a poorly dressed impersonation of the painted white statue performers who frequent Circular Quay, their blank facades completely impervious to the ebb and flow of life around them. Just with more cardboard boxes.
In a rare spark of intuition, the one person who had any notion of what was going on finally realised that I couldn’t leave J on my own. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was that I was physically and mentally incapable.
Reinforcements were called in. My mother flew from interstate and packed up my belongings for days on end. I can’t remember what I did, or what I said. Apparently staring was my forte; sometimes I’d sit, occasionally I’d stand. That was as much as I was capable of at the time, I guess. Everything I know from this time is a second-hand account, as my mother has retold it, only once and with tears in her eyes. I can’t bear to ask her again.
J wasn’t there. I’m not sure where he went, but as soon as the “reinforcements” arrived, he was gone. It was better that way for everyone, and I’m grateful to him for that.
Memories of my mother arriving, packing my belongings, and coaxing me to the airport are as if I was watching the scene from the bottom of the ocean. In the dark.
Roughly 2.5 years later, I can look back, however vaguely, and be grateful that I left. I got on the plane and I haven’t been back.
The fact that I couldn’t do it own my own, likely wouldn’t have done it on my own, still provides me with a sizable dose of pain and shame.
There are two distinct memories I have from that time, however. In a time period that is so murky, I can’t distinguish between days and months, there are two crystal clear memories that remind me now that I was still in there at the time. Somewhere, unfathomably deep below the surface, struggling for air and sunlight and blue skies.
They’re not dramatic or world-changing, but they hurt to remember, let alone put into words.
I hope I can do them justice soon.
Lastly, I can’t finish this update without a sincere, bottom-of-the-ocean heartfelt debt of gratitude to the VF members who have emailed, commented and Tweeted their messages of support, strength and hope over the last few years.
Thank you. It means more to me than you can know.