Why can’t this happen when I’m eating a salad?
“I’m dying,” I tell myself.
“No, you’re not,” I reply. “Stop being stupid.”
Then I catch myself.
“Why do you feel like you’re dying, honey?” I ask, the way Q and Rachel have taught me.
But there’s no answer.
I’ve been falling apart for days now. Since Sunday. I feel…weird. Like Rea has died, and I’m someone different altogether. I feel completely hysterical and completely calm all at once, and I couldn’t go to work if my life depended on it. (Which it does, sort of, at least the part that involves having a roof over my head and food in my fridge.)
Something is very wrong.
Yesterday was Monday. Yesterday Nikki texted to confirm that I definitely wanted to cancel my appointment today, which I did, even though I didn’t. (Money, money, it all comes back to money.) I told her yes, but could we move my Friday appointment to Wednesday, because I felt like I was decompensating?
Today is Tuesday. Today I’m sitting in the emergency department, covered in blood and trying not to throw up. Today I was stupid.
At midday, I called Nikki. “Can you call the private hospital and find out if they have any beds available?” I would have said. “I don’t know what’s wrong but something very bad is happening and I don’t feel like I’m going to hurt myself but I’ve never felt like this before and I think I need to do something.” That’s what I would have said, only she didn’t pick up.
That was okay. I knew she would call back. Instead, I took some deep breaths. I opened the blinds. I lit a candle. I went for a walk and bought some flowers. I took some more deep breaths. It’s okay, just breathe, you’re okay.
She called back, and everything went wrong. I fucked up. I asked her to call the hospital, and to come over and do a session, but I panicked and I couldn’t breathe and instead of waiting for her to come, and going to the hospital, I took an overdose, and I cut my arm, very deep.
Nikki was in my house. Nikki isn’t supposed to be in my house.
And then she took me to the hospital, in her car. I’m not supposed to be in her car. And she stayed, and she got paper towel to mop up the blood that was running out through the bandages, and she gave me chocolate, and a hug, but then she left when the doctor took me me to get stitches, after he’d decided that probably I hadn’t cut any arteries. And I wanted to cry, and ask her not to leave me, but I don’t do that, so instead I said I don’t want to get stitches, but she left anyway.
I messaged Carol and asked her to come, but she has a full and rowdy household tonight.
So now I’m sitting, breathing and trying not to throw up.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
The day after the disastrous session with Nikki, I felt guilty. Okay, things had not gone well, but there wasn’t really much she could do about that. It wasn’t her fault that Skype froze and FaceTime didn’t work and she happened to be at the same festival that I was. She committed an hour out of her day to me, and that’s what I got – the fact that we were only able to talk for half of that doesn’t change the fact that she spent an hour focused on me.
She hadn’t seemed angry the night before, but I still felt anxious about exposing my nastier side to her. I didn’t feel like I could wait another week to reconcile, but I was afraid of contacting her again, of being too demanding and high-maintenance.
In the early afternoon, I sent her a text, asking if it would be okay if I sent her an email. Before then, she had replied to every text message in less than 5 minutes. This time it took 3 hours. It wasn’t the waiting that bothered me – it was the change. I took some deep breaths, and tried to listen to the wise voice that counselled me not to read too much into innocuous things.
Eventually, she sent back “Of course!”
I feel ambivalent about sending her emails – it’s not the way I want to communicate, but at the moment, it’s the only way I can communicate. My mind is jumping from Point A to Point Q – the last time I sent her an email, she hadn’t read it by the time of our next session almost a week later, because she hadn’t checked her inbox in that time, and I leapt to the conclusion that she must not have many (or any) other clients who email her, and therefore I’m weird and demanding and she’s taking pity on me.
But it doesn’t help, to not be able to explain things to her, and then feel hurt and frustrated that she doesn’t understand me. So I sent the fucking email.
I’m frustrated with myself, that it feels so impossible to talk to you. And I know it’s frustrating for you too, because of course you can’t help if all I give you to work with is monosyllables.
I often find myself thinking You’re not listening to me!, but when I reflect, I know it’s probably actually:
- What I think I’m saying and what I’m actually saying are two completely different things; or
- It’s one of these situations:
So I guess I’m writing this because I’m not sure whether I’ve communicated it and I do want you to know and understand some of how I feel, and because I want you to know that I am trying, even when I’m being impossible.
This is what an okay week looks like:
Wake up feeling anxious, ten minutes after my last alarm went off. Go back to bed for another ten minutes, until I’m definitely going to be late for work, then bang my head against the headboard a couple of times to get myself moving. Stand under the shower and think about what I should write in my suicide note to my favourite nephew; blink back tears. Get off the train and walk to work with my chest feeling tight, my skin tingling; feel the urge to sink a razor into my arm. Do the rounds, say good morning, chat to Cara about what we both did last night. Sit at my desk and work for a little bit, then notice that I’m rocking myself back and forth. Shift back to lean against the chair to try to keep myself still. Go back to work. Open eBay and search for scalpels; no, I’m supposed to be working. Close the tab. Go back to work.
Check in with Sarah; how is it going?; listen to her vent. Stop at P’s office; (she looks stressed); ask how she’s feeling.
Spend twenty minutes trying to decide what to eat for lunch; everything looks unappetising. Share some cat videos with Cara; read new blog posts; check in with Ash and Ally; go back to work. Talk to R; try not to get snappy when he gives me more work to do. Look up whether you can overdose on Effexor, and how many pills it would take. Go back to work. Feel blood trickling down my arm; am I bleeding? Put a hand up my sleeve to check; no, just memories.
Watch the clock. Is it time to go home yet? I need to go home. Skim through a document; can’t focus; check the clock. Maybe I can just leave early? Go back to work. Finish a little after 5.30, pack up my stuff, tell myself I have to call out goodbye to Rebecca and Siobhan as I leave, I have to, it’s not that hard. (It’s too hard; I don’t.)
Walk to the train station; feel bored and frantic at the same time.
Shit, I have to go and pick up Everest’s food from the vet, she’s been out of wet food for days. But I’ll probably know the staff member and I’ll have to make small talk; I can’t, I can’t talk to anyone, it’s too hard. I’ll go tomorrow. (I said that yesterday.)
Walk in the door, tear off long sleeves, pick up Ev and crawl into bed. Love her so much; she touches my face with her paw; my heart could burst. Lie with her; close my eyes. Think about having to get up and do this all again tomorrow; want to cut myself. How am I going to get through tomorrow without cutting myself?
Pull my laptop onto the bed; flick through Netflix. Watch five minutes; can’t focus; too much effort. Think about choking myself; no, the rope’s in a box under the bed, it’s too hard to get it out. Text Gretel a photo of Snape in a wig; laugh at the photo of Dumbledore she sends back. Close my eyes.
Read blogs; leave comments. Play Words with Friends. Write in the Highlight Of My Day book (sat in the grass; photo of the baby from J; stranger singing to himself on the train). Feed Ev; get ready for bed; crawl under the covers. Too restless; roll from side to side; feel panicky; kick the end of the bed. Get up and pace. Read five pages of Calvin and Hobbes. Go back to bed. Put headphones in. Skip through twenty songs, listen to half a song then start skipping again. Curl up; dig my nails into the bottom of my foot. Get up and pace. Go to the bathroom and get out a razor blade. Hold it for a minute, press it against my skin, then put it back. Go back to bed. Fall asleep at 4am, and dream about bleeding.
When I say spending time with friends is “too much effort”, you seem to hear something like this:
What I’m trying to say is: Sometimes I spend an hour and a half in the shower because the idea of getting out, drying myself and getting dressed feels too impossibly difficult. I get up every day and go to work and attend meetings and make calls and support colleagues, and the effort it takes to be functional makes me wish I was dead, but staying in bed all day isn’t going to make anything better. So I go to work, and I volunteer, and I keep in touch with family, and I look for a second job, because my niece wants dance classes but she lives near the beach so I’m not taking her out of swimming, because I need to be able to go home regularly, because I need therapy, because I can’t stop myself buying medication for the homeless guy at the pharmacy who can’t afford his script, because my brother owes me over $8,000 and I was crazy enough to book a trip to Bali with my tax return. A lot of days, I feel like I’m way past my capacity to cope. And the thought of adding another thing that’s “good for me” but doesn’t feel good makes me want to cut myself.
When I say “I don’t want to”, what I mean is I usually make an effort not to complain, and to see the good in things, because my life is better when I look for the positives. But things are hard, and it’s exhausting trying to be ‘brave’ all the time. I need this one place where I get to whinge and be pissed off about how hard I have to try, and not be expected to be upbeat and instantly ready to tackle anything all the time.
I get that there’s a tension there, and you want me to make changes because you want my life to be better – that comes from a lovely place. I guess I just want to know that you hear me, too.
Thanks for hanging in there with me.
P.S. Can we change “push” to “encourage”? Maybe ‘encourage’ doesn’t capture what you mean, but I prefer it because it sounds like you’re on my side – ‘push’ doesn’t.
I have no hesitation about owning the label ‘self-harmer‘. No shame about ‘depressed‘, ‘anxious‘, ‘suicidal‘. I excel at all of these things. I have hospital admissions, medications, surgeries, stitches and scars to prove that they’re true.
But for over a decade, I’ve been too ashamed to admit, even to myself, that I have an eating disorder.
At first, I thought it didn’t count, because I didn’t throw up after I binged. And that was shameful, because I should be making myself throw up. I was a disgusting pig, and I deserved to throw up.
Then I got a little older, into my late teens, and I started to realise that maybe there was a little more to eating disorders than the lectures about anorexia and bulimia we got in high school. But I was afraid to think too much about it, and anyway, I was a ‘normal’ weight, so I couldn’t have an eating disorder.
And now I’m in my mid-twenties, and getting more and more aware of the times that I eat even though I’m not hungry. Even though a voice in my head is telling me ‘I don’t want to eat this‘. Even though I feel full, and sick. I’ve been characterising it as an unhealthy coping mechanism, a way of dealing with emotions, and mostly just ignoring it. Never, ever mentioning it to therapists, because it’s not extreme enough for me to be proud of it, to own it. I am not ashamed of self-harm, because I have to suffer for the relief. And I hate this, I hate it, because all I’m doing is losing control and stuffing my face.
When I was a teenager, my mother was obese and miserable about her weight, and she used to call me a pig and pinch my hips, seeing how much fat she could grab. Even now that I’m an adult, and science tells me I’m a little below the “ideal” weight for my height, if she sees me eating something she doesn’t approve of she’ll look me up and down, a pinched, disgusted look on her face, and say “Well, you don’t need any dinner“.
And I so didn’t want her to win. I didn’t want to have any body issues; I wanted to sail through it, unaffected. But the truth is, she is winning. She’s made me so ashamed of eating, so ashamed of not being underweight, that I can’t even confess to myself that I might have a problem. (Another one.)
Last night, I went and read the diagnostic criteria, and the verdict seems pretty conclusive. I still hate it. I’m still ashamed. But I might as well admit it.
I have an eating disorder.
It’s easy to identify the reasons why I hurt myself – even when I was a teenager with the self-reflective skills of a lower form of sea slug, I could probably have told you that I have low self-esteem, and I self-harm to punish myself and to make myself feel better. But in some ways, that’s the wrong question, because the answer isn’t to find a new way to punish myself. The better question is what needs the self-harm is meeting, and how else I can meet those needs. (Thanks Sirena.)
Needs are not a thing I am good at identifying. The sea slug could probably finish his dissertation on Maslow’s hierarchy before I managed to work out that people need food to survive. But I thought I would try, and hope my little WordPress community can fill in the rest.
Need #1: To escape emotions that feel intolerable; essentially, self-soothing.
My distress tolerance is low, and so is my patience. When I’m triggered, I feel like I can’t endure it. My thoughts are fuzzy, I can’t breathe, my body feels heavy and there’s too much happening inside me to contain it, I’m going to explode, I’m going to keep winding tighter and tighter until I explode. I’m losing my mind, I can’t chat to the checkout operator about the wind warning for the eastern suburbs, how can I talk to people and walk around and be polite and normal when there is a volcano in my chest? I’m frozen and stuck and I can’t move and that’s so incongruous with the hailstorm in my brain that I’m frustrated and angry, I need to kick and scream and thrash like a wild thing but it’s not enough to get it out, and I need to get it out.
There are voices in my head, an older male saying I’m going to kill you in a deep, threatening tone, a hysterical teenager screaming I HATE YOU, YOU STUPID BITCH, I HATE YOU, or a coldly furious voice telling me I’m a such a stupid fucking cunt. Sometimes there’s a kinder voice bribing me, telling me I’m going to feel so much better, and I can have an icecream after it’s over.
If I sit with it for a while maybe the intensity will decrease, maybe it will go away, but I know how to make it go away right now and I don’t want to feel it any more.
(It’s interesting to me that different voices use different language – the younger teenage doesn’t say ‘fucking’, because I didn’t at that age, and the older teenager doesn’t say ‘cunt’, because I didn’t until I was in my 20s.)
When I’m having compulsive thoughts of setting myself on fire, I can’t think, it takes over my whole brain and I just keep picturing it over and over again, walking through the steps; wetting the towel, unscrewing the container, pouring the accelerant, lighting the match and seeing the flames. I feel like I’m going crazy, not because of the nature of the thoughts but because they’re stuck in my head and just cycling and cycling and I’m so frustrated I’m going to burst.
*Trigger warning for burning. Seriously.* My ability to tolerate emotion is even worse when it’s stemming from a particular memory, and burning is the most effective way I’ve ever found for decreasing the emotion associated with painful memories. Last year, I had an encounter with an ex-boyfriend that was maybe kind of a little bit sexual assault, but most definitely unwanted and awful, and I couldn’t stop reliving it afterwards. Especially in bed at night, but over and over throughout the day, I’d have a sudden flash of him on top of me, and my whole body would flinch – my eyes would close, I’d tense and my thighs would clench together. It made me feel sick and trapped and I hated it.
So I brought the memory consciously to mind, and I brought a lighter flame close to my arm, near but not touching. To start off with, the pain is extreme, and it matches the intensity of the emotions. And then my skin starts to turn white, and harden, and the intensity lessens, the pain travelling deeper into my body, still strong but duller somehow. Once my skin turns from white to black, the burn site is completely numb, and the emotions that were intolerable a few minutes ago are calmer, my body less panicked. And then I bring the memory to mind again, and I start again in a new spot. And I keep going, until I can bring the memory to mind and feel nothing but numb emptiness.
(In a side note, I feel so much rage over Marsha Lineham’s famous quote about people with BPD being like people with third degree burns who feel agony at the slightest touch – I get the metaphor, but by definition a third degree burn has no sensation. A stupid thing to feel angry about, but I do.)
Need #1.1: To regain self-esteem by splitting off the ‘bad’ parts of me?
I’m not sure what the need is here, exactly, but I do feel better about myself after I’ve been ‘punished’. If I accidentally send the CEO the wrong spreadsheet, or I feel guilty because I haven’t been in touch with my younger cousin or my uncle in a while, I feel calmer and more okay about myself after I’ve hurt myself. It’s a very childish view of solving a problem – hurting myself doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t help my uncle feel less lonely, or guide my cousin through teenage conflicts. But still, I feel better. Because I endured pain and so I’m strong, and being strong is part of being good. And because I did something, so I feel less impotent, even though the thing I did wasn’t helpful. Maybe it’s exactly the same as #1, but it feels a little different.
And sometimes, I want to punish the younger versions of me, to make them stronger. I guess I’ve projected qualities that I hate about myself onto them (like having needs), and I think I can change things by visualising hurting my younger selves while I hurt myself. Which any sea slug with half a brain knows I can’t.
The worst is this pathetic little attention-seeking bitch; it’s her fifth birthday, and she’s not even pretending to smile. I want to hit her in the face, and keep hitting her until she hardens up and stops looking vulnerable.
And this ten-year-old at the playground; I want to knock her to the ground, kneel on her back, grab her ponytail and smash her face into the asphalt. I don’t even know why I hate her so much. That photo was taken around the time I first started self-harming, so I should be proud of her, right? Or am I angry at her for starting this cycle that I’m still whirling around in 15 years later?
(I feel the need to make it clear that I have zero violent urges towards any children that aren’t me.)
Need #2: To control my body, and to distance myself from it.
I hate my body, and I want to destroy it. I don’t mean that I wish I had a more toned butt, or eyes like Angelina Jolie’s – I hate that I’m trapped inside a disgusting hunk of flesh that eats and defecates, and rarely, when it’s coerced, has sex. My body repulses me and terrifies me, and hurting it is a way to control it. The first time I cut myself, I still had bunk beds, and I draped a sheet from the top bunk to create a private little fort. When I drew the blade across my skin for the first time, I felt this awed sense of peace; I can make myself bleed. That power is mysteriously reassuring. In therapy, any time I’m asked to focus on my breathing, feel my feet on the floor, observe the sensation of the material of the couch, I feel immediate panic at being reminded of my body and asked to pay attention to it, and I automatically want to hurt it. Paradoxically, hurting it makes it go away.
Need #3: To be functional and independent.
Some days, most days, there is something that I have to do that feels too hard. Make a phone call; send an email; go to the post office; vacuum the growing mounds of kitty litter off the floor. Sometimes I’m anxious and my mind is racing and I can’t think, and hurting myself is like wiping a cloth across the mirror after a shower; the fog disappears. Sometimes I just feel like there’s a block, like I know I’m capable of doing the things I need to do but I can’t do them, I feel heavy and inert and my mind is thinking but I can’t make my body move, and I’m angry – you stupid fucking bitch, what the hell is wrong with you? – or despairing – I can’t do this any more. Hurting myself helps me move into a different state, one where I can function – maybe because of the endorphins, maybe because it helps me feel calm, maybe because once it’s done I’ve ‘accomplished’ something and I feel more capable.
If I don’t work then I can’t pay rent. But beyond the practicalities, I feel the need to be productive. If I’m not working, not studying, then I’m a useless waste of space and I might as well be dead. (I absolutely don’t think this about other people – my uncle with schizophrenia hasn’t worked in 30 years, and he is a beautiful, necessary part of the world.)
Need #4: To receive empathy.
Before I hurt myself, I am bad. I am a stupid fucking bitch, or a disgusting piece of shit. Afterwards, if I have cut deep enough, burnt enough times, I am a good girl. I have suffered, and now I deserve to curl up in a warm bed and watch TV, or drink chocolate milk and read a book. Sometimes the process of self-harming brings out my nurturing side; when I’m struggling with the pain of burning, I will coax myself gently. Good girl, you’re doing such a good job, that’s it, just take a deep breath. I know that I am allowed to nurture myself without hurting myself first, and sometimes I try, but it doesn’t feel soothing until I’ve earned it.
A few months ago, I identified for the first time that when I’m anxious or distressed but not angry about something I’ve fucked up, the urge to self-harm is actually a desire to be held. It was pretty upsetting, to realise that I couldn’t tell the difference between a need for pain and a need for comfort.
Sometimes I’m also looking for empathy from others, for affirmation that others care about me, but rarely; most of my self-harm is hidden. Mostly, I need it as validation for being in therapy. If a therapist asks me whether I’ve self-harmed in the last week, and I haven’t, I feel shame. Why am I here, then? If I’m not self-harming, I’m just a malingerer.
Need #5: To feel safe and secure.
I have no fear of being attacked, or being in an accident, or being mauled by my ever-increasing posse of kittens. And yet whenever I see a movie where someone is tortured, or shot, or read a blog post about self-injury I haven’t tried, I’m terrified about whether or not I could endure that pain, and I want to test myself, to make sure that I can. Why do I need to preemptively protect myself against things I’m not afraid of, that I know won’t happen? I have no idea. The chances of anyone making me cut open my own eyeball to dig out a key from inside my head are pretty slim, but if they did, I couldn’t do it. And what if C’s life was depending on it, or my nephews’? It makes me feel powerless and helpless.
Watching Saw was such a bad decision.
Need #6: To learn and experience.
I’m always curious about how things feel. A couple of years ago, I went on an overseas trip with a group of friends to celebrate our graduation from law school. I was with people I loved, doing things that I loved, and it was one of the best times of my life; we went surfing, rafting, hiking, trapezing, and paintballing. And I desperately wanted someone to shoot me at point-blank range with a paintball, because I had to know what it felt like. How bad did it hurt? When other people talked about how intense it was, were they right, or were they just ignorant of what severe pain feels like? I played without any of the optional protective gear, and during the last game, I ran out into the open. I enjoyed the dull ache of the balls exploding against my skin, and I loved the lurid bruises that formed afterwards. This is basically the less extreme version of #5 – if I’m confident that I could tolerate it, then I’m desperate to experience it.
So, I just need to meet these needs in a way that doesn’t involve hurting myself, and I won’t need to self-harm any more? That doesn’t sound too hard.
But it is hard. So what am I missing?
This is Albus. He is 6 weeks old, and he weighs about the same as a stick of butter. A few days ago he was living on the street, and now he is living in my bathroom, in the basket that used to hold my spare rolls of toilet paper.
We’re all still adjusting.
Albus came to my session with Nikki yesterday, and he wailed the whole way there. Partway down the street I realised I was talking out loud to apparently no one, saying “Oh, I know, it’s so scary. I can hear you’re very upset. It’s okay, mummy’s here.”, and was delighted to find I didn’t give a fuck.
She was instantly besotted with him, and pulled out her phone to snap photos to show her son. We sat together on the floor, closer than I ever could have tolerated with Anna, and Albus gambolled around our legs, pouncing on bits of fluff and falling over. But when I left, I was disappointed and frustrated and upset, and fixated on hurting myself.
At the time, I thought it was just because the session wasn’t helpful. I wasn’t upset with Nikki, because it wasn’t her fault that we’d done nothing but go over old ground – it was general frustration that therapy isn’t helpful and nothing is helpful. We’d talked a little bit about my belief systems about enduring pain being a character strength, but she said that it was a quantum leap to go from the fact that my parents encourage stoicism and shame “wimpiness” to the belief that hurting myself shows strength, and that it didn’t seem like enough to create that belief system, and I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t pursue it any further. Either I’m wrong and stupid, or I’m fucked up and weird and I took a normal experience and turned it into an extreme ideology. Or I could check the facts and stop focusing on the most negative possible interpretations of every statement, but God forbid I actually learn anything from my DBT class.
So I didn’t lead the session and it didn’t go anywhere, but that isn’t really why I was upset. An hour or so after trying to stab myself in the arm with a kitchen knife, I realised that mostly I was just feeling sad and small because she hadn’t really said anything empathetic during the session.
Ugh, that feels gross to write.
She mirrored my affect almost exactly – calm, a little detached, and focused on the facts. When I told her I’m struggling with urges to cut myself with a power saw, put hydrochloric acid on my skin or set myself on fire, she didn’t blink, just calmly asked whether I’d have a wet towel waiting to put it out. When I told her that when I was 16 my school called my parents to tell them that I had third degree burns, and my parents told them I was fine and refused to come in for a meeting, she observed that they were very well defended. When I told her that if I delay self-harm for a week or so, I start hallucinating the people around me hurting each other and hurting themselves, she diverted into asking me why I always hit my cheekbone instead of the back of my head. All very rational…and I was expecting a reaction. It wouldn’t have fixed anything if she’d said “Oh god, that must be awful“, but I guess I would have felt less alone. And safer – it feels like such a risk to show any emotions before I’m sure whether she’ll respond to them.
The part that really stabbed me in the chest came after she asked how Aisha used to react when I self-harmed during sessions with her.
“She was chill,” I said, and she was – I have no idea how she really felt about it, because she was totally calm and non-reactive and never asked me to stop, and that made me feel safe. Thinking back now, I’m surprised I didn’t feel abandoned or uncared for, but I just felt held, because there was nothing I could do that wasn’t okay with her.
“Is that how you feel you’d like this to go?” Nikki asked.
In the moment, I had no idea. I’m still not really sure.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference – I usually do what I’m going to do, regardless of what other people…” I trailed off.
“I suppose there’s a danger, if I was to get…kind of…you know, ‘you really need to be trying hard not to do this’, obviously I’m not going to say that, that’s ridiculous. But there’s a danger of it becoming a certain dynamic, where it’s no longer two adults in the room talking and it’s a bit more parent-child and that’s one to watch out for. We don’t want that to happen because you know, it’s your life, you’re an adult and it’s about your responsibilities.”
The urge to hurt myself immediately intensified, and I noticed a need to close myself off from her. A voice in the back of my head wryly observed ‘Yep, you’re definitely going to be blogging about this later‘.
She’s right, of course – I am an adult. But I don’t feel like one, and I hate being reminded that I am. To me, adulthood carries connotations of too old to be looked after and you’re on your own. I was so unhappy when Alina wanted me to contract to go to the hospital every time I self-harmed, and yet when Nikki recognises my freedom to make my own decisions, I feel abandoned and alone and miserable. I mean, fucking hell.
Later that night, when I finally realised why I was upset, I felt an aching emptiness in my chest and tears came to my eyes: fuck, I miss Aisha. She was never very reliable, but when she was there she was completely warm and steady and accepting and she never, ever made me feel like I was being difficult. It’s occurred to me for the first time that instead of seeing Nikki a few more times after my 10 sessions are up, I could see Aisha – it would cost twice as much as Nikki, but the benefits would probably be more than double, since she knows me so well. But probably that would just stir things up more, and then I’d have to go through separating from her again.
Nikki is supposed to be speaking to Aisha today. (They had arranged to speak two weeks ago, but Aisha realised at the last minute that she’d double-booked and couldn’t find another time, and it’s so typically Aisha that I had to smile.) So I guess I’ll find out what happened and go from there.
My brother was officially declared a missing person this week, and nobody told me.
Last week, his psychiatrist decided he needed to be admitted, and drove him to the hospital. When they arrived, Troy got out and ran. I used to think it was funny, all the experience my brothers have at running away from the cops. No psychiatrist would stand a chance at catching him.
The police called my parents to find out if they’d seen him, and my parents called my brother C. Troy is impossible to trace at the moment, because he no longer believes in corporations and doesn’t own a phone, a car or a computer. He was sighted standing on a bridge looking at the water, then a few hours later on another.
He was found, at some point, and returned home, for some reason, until he disappeared again. Again, the police called our parents to report that he was suicidal and missing and to find out if they’d seen him. They hadn’t. Troy lives a few hundred meters from our parents, by the way.
He was found again, and returned home again, but isn’t answering the door to anyone. He’s schizophrenic and off his meds.
The first I heard of any of this was this afternoon. I was in the car with my parents, turning onto our street, when I heard mum mutter “God, Troy looks awful“. When I looked up from my phone, all I saw was a glimpse of his back as he walked in the direction away from our house. My heart leapt – Troy! – because he was gone for so long and any proximity, any confirmation that he still exists is exciting. No matter what state he’s in.
“Is Troy not doing good?” I asked my mother, and she told me he’d been suicidal and gone missing a number of times in the last week, and the police had been calling.
“When was the last time you saw him?” I asked.
“Mmm…about three weeks ago?” she guessed, and my heart sank. I’d been hoping that he’d gone to them, but more than that, I’d been hoping that they had gone to him.
I felt edgy and uncomfortable pressing it any further – afraid of what I might hear, I think: “he’s a lost cause, Rea, there’s nothing we can do”; “he’s not really our responsibility” – but I persisted, sounding a little uncertain. “Well, shouldn’t we go and see him then?”
“He comes over when he wants to see us – he kept walking, so he obviously doesn’t want to talk.” Her tone wasn’t dismissive or uncaring, but just so, so passive, and I wanted to shake her.
“But shouldn’t we do something?”
She didn’t respond, and got out of the car. My dad had been silent throughout the conversation: a relief. He doesn’t like Troy.
I can’t let myself be angry at my parents, but I am. Troy is destructing and they aren’t even trying to help him. I know he’s an adult but I just can’t see it that way – he’s my brother and I want him to be protected and cared for and I hate that he’s all alone. He would open the door for our mother. Even in his worst psychotic episodes, he has literally run at her with his arms open for a hug. It hurts to know that he loves her so much. He lived in our house for years, and he calls her parents Nan and Pa. When he was 13 and he broke his arm, she tied his shoelaces for a month. How can she know that he wants to die, that he might die, and not even walk up the street to knock on his door?
She is who she is, and I have to accept that. She is caring and loving but she can’t step up when it really counts. It’s easier to accept when it’s directed at me than when my brother is suffering.
My brother C and I are about to go to his house and bang on the door, call out to him to let us in, push letters under the door. And then I will have to decide whether to call the crisis team and try to have him admitted. I’m so afraid that he’s going to die if I don’t. I’m afraid he might be dead already.