It’s been a tough couple of days. I still want to fill in the gaps of the last few months, so that I have a record of all the crazy shit I need to stop doing. But right now I need to write about this.
On Friday, the HR manager Carol came to pick me up from the hospital. She took me out for breakfast, went back with me to meet with the psychiatrist about how to support me, drove me home and came up to my apartment to confiscate my blades, my lighters and my rope. She offered to bake me anything I wanted, told me I could come to her place over the weekend if I wanted, and to just call her if I needed anything or if I felt like I was going to do something impulsive.
Walking in the front door of my building, I thought I was going to throw up. My whole body was shaking, and Carol made me stop and take some deep breaths, because I was in that panicky heart-racing can’t-breathe state. Going home was so fucking scary. Abruptly, I had to keep myself safe after five weeks in a contained little cocoon. Going home meant going back to normal life, back to work, back to grocery shopping, back to cleaning out the kitty litter.
My managers have given me so much support. They’ve been flexible about my complete inability to ever show up on time, they gave me two months off work without guilting me about all the extra work they had to take on, they reassured me that they cared and were there for me, they’re doing everything they can to make the transition back to work successful for me – even talking to my psychiatrist and psychologist.
And that is TERRIFYING, because now I have to prove that I’m worth it. That I can be a good employee, I can be stable and reliable, I can stop causing issues that take up staff time. To show them that all the effort they’ve put in has paid off.
And I don’t think I can. I’M NOT BETTER. I’m still depressed. I find it so hard to get out of bed in the morning, and to focus on anything. I’m afraid that when I keep on fucking up, they’re going to hate me. And I’m afraid that when they get frustrated and write me off as a lost cause, I’ll be so ashamed and alone that I’ll have to kill myself.
Huh. That’s not actually what I was intending to write about, and I didn’t really know those fears until I wrote them out. But that is what I’m so scared of. It’s not actually about work at all. It’s about losing my support system and the people who prop up my fragile self esteem.
So. My first night home was okay. I snuggled Everest, ate chocolate and binge-watched Supernanny. Carol had told me to call her to check in that night, but she didn’t pick up. That was fine, though. I didn’t actually need her – I just wanted to talk to her.
When my therapist Aisha and I talked about going back to work, we agreed it would be a good idea to do a walk-through of the office while none of the other staff were there. I’d hung myself a couple of times in the garage, and even though I’ve hurt myself much more frequently and severely in my apartment, going back to that space felt more traumatic.
I’d told Aisha that I’d do it with Sam, partly because I felt too guilty to burden Carol with doing yet another thing to support me, and partly because I thought going through that with Sam would help build the trust with her that I already have with Carol.
By the time I had breakfast with Carol the day I was discharged, I was rethinking that decision. Carol is very attuned. She reads me better than almost any therapist I’ve ever had, and she knows when I’m upset even before I do. She’s firm, but gentle, and I knew she’d push me to do it but sit with me through it. So I started trying to wriggle out of doing it with Sam.
“I’d be happy to do it just by myself, but I figured you guys wouldn’t be keen on that.”
“No. I’m not going to let you do that. It’s not about not trusting you – I think it’s a good thing to do with someone so you have moral support, and if you need soothing or calming then there’s someone with you to help you.”
That immediately elevated Carol from my top preference to The Best Ever First And Only Preference. What the mature, confident version of myself would have said is:
“Carol, I know I said I’d like to do it with Sam, but now I think about it more, I think it would probably be better if you and I do it together. Would that be okay?”
Instead, what the cowardly lion said was:
“I don’t want to make Sam come in on her weekend just before she leaves on an interstate trip…”
I ended up doing it with Sam.
On Sunday, two days after my discharge, I arrived at the office at 3pm, feeling shaky. When I got to the top of the stairs, Sam was waiting for me, and reached out for a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“What do you need from me?”
I guess I kind of expected her to argue, to say ‘No, I’m walking around with you‘. Instead, she said “Good – I haven’t had lunch yet.”
That was pretty crushing. If I’d asked, she absolutely would have come with me, but she was relieved she didn’t have to. That hot shame of being a burden started creeping up the back of my neck.
I went around the top level of the office, room by room. The Story Room, where I spent so many days lying on the couch, crying and feeling despairing. The stationery room, where I’d come up with so many different ways to hurt myself. (While I was sitting, thinking, crying a little, I picked up a pair of scissors and pressed it lightly against my wrist.) The bathroom, where I’d burnt myself with a lighter the last time I was there. The kitchen, where I’d tried to burn myself with hot water, and thought about overdosing on the pills in the first aid box.
Eventually, there was nothing left but the garage.
I went into Sam’s office, and asked her to come down with me. She started walking down the stairs, but I stayed standing at the top, looking over the railing, remembering the times I’d spent leaning over the edge and imagining my head splitting open on the concrete floor below. Usually it takes some conscious effort for me to cry, but the tears bubbled up on their own – reliving those feelings, and grieving for the pain I’d been in the last time I was there.
I was there for a few minutes, just quietly crying, and Sam was halfway down the stairs, looking up at me.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just be here with me.”
Even then, I didn’t feel like she was there with me. She was observing me – she wasn’t with me. I wanted her to come back up the stairs and hold my hand, but I didn’t want to say that to her.
I could feel an impatient energy coming from her, and I felt rushed. I pulled myself away, and went down the stairs to the bottom. I wasn’t ready, but I was afraid that she was going to try to hurry me along if I didn’t.
In the corner at the bottom of the stairs, there are three brackets fixed into the concrete wall. They’d taken away the desk chair I’d climbed on to tie the noose around my neck, but everything else was still the same. I leaned against the opposite wall, reliving the desperate fear and overwhelm I’d felt those nights, clutching my arms across my body and trembling. I could almost see myself standing on that chair. Feel the texture of the rope in my hands. It took me right back.
And Sam…Sam was wandering around the rest of the garage. Flicking lights on and off, tidying things up, calling out to me to ‘come and look at this‘. She might have found it too uncomfortable to be present with the emotion I was experiencing. She might have been trying to normalise the situation, like ‘Oh it’s just a garage with a mop on the floor that should be in the broom cupboard and what are these things doing here no big deal it’s just a garage nothing to be afraid of‘. She might have just been completely oblivious. I don’t know.
I felt so angry at her. This was a big deal to me, and she was treating it like it was nothing. I’d trusted her to do this with me, I’d asked her to just be there with me, and she was leaving me alone and making me feel ashamed of being emotional.
Eventually, she came over, and leaned against the wall with me. She stayed quiet for maybe thirty seconds, then turned to me and said “Bad memories suck“.
I kind of wanted to bite her.
I kept crying quietly, and she asked “Do you want me to go back upstairs?”
I nodded – I couldn’t speak. As she went back up the stairs, I sank down to the floor and started sobbing, pressing my mouth against my bare arm to muffle the noise. Being left there, alone, in this big dark empty space, was retraumatising. Those nights, I’d been on my own, desperately needing someone to lift me off the chair and hold me, and I hadn’t had anybody there to help me. I could have reached out, called Sam or Carol or Kim, but I didn’t feel like I could.
This time was even worse. This time I had reached out, and she’d minimised my experiences then walked away and left me.
I sat curled up for a few minutes, sobbing, and felt the emotion escalating higher and higher.
‘I want Carol,’ I thought. ‘I want to do this with Carol.’
I got the hell out of there. I ran away.
On the bus, I called Carol. I was hoping to go back there that night, get it over with rather than dreading it. I was triggered and upset and I felt betrayed and abandoned by Sam, and I wanted her to console me.
She didn’t pick up.
I thought she’d call me back later. I figured she was picking one of her boys up, or out in the garden, and she’d check in with me when she could. At 11.30 that night, I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to hear from her that day.
The next day I waited a couple of hours, then sent a slightly stroppy text message:
Being in the office was very distressing and I don’t know if I can come back to work on Wednesday. Definitely not without another visit beforehand.
I was mad at her. It’s hard to admit that when she’s done so much for me, so much more than she could ever be expected to do. But I was mad that she’d told me I could call her and then she wasn’t there.
She texted me back, suggested we meet there at 7.30 on Wednesday, offered to bring tea and coconut slice, and told me it was ‘a good boulder to jump over‘.
I did not want to jump over the boulder. I wanted to kick it, hard, until it crumbled into pieces.
I felt wary and untrusting. I wasn’t prepared to be vulnerable again, and what was the point of doing it if I just shut down my emotion and didn’t process it? My guard was back up, and I wanted to push everyone away, even though it hurt to be alone.
I knew I didn’t really have a choice, other than quitting my job. I had to go back. But I still resisted. I felt so invalidated by Sam, but I doubted myself too much to openly say ‘This is a big deal and it’s a really hard, traumatic thing to go through‘. Part of me feels like I’m blowing it way out of proportion.
But I still want them to know it’s hard. I want to be heard. And if I meekly agreed to go back, they wouldn’t get it. So I’m kicking and screaming. ‘No! I don’t want to!‘
I ignored Carol all day, until she finally pinned me down tonight and asked me to confirm. So, I’m fucking going tomorrow. I feel something squeezing inside me just thinking about walking in that door, and there’s a wailing thing in my head bashing itself against the walls.
I don’t know what to do. I know the only way to process it is to let my guard down, but I feel like I can’t bear it. Whether she’s detached and unhelpful or present and supportive…both options feel equally untolerable to me.
I don’t know what to do.