Category Archives: first year

I Don’t Want to Die…

Follows from Up To Scratch.

My parents have always been very hard on me. My mum only knows how to express love through actions, a knock on effect from her mother, who terrified me as a small child. My dad expected a lot of me and I worked my ass off because I enjoyed making him proud of me. I worked very hard through school and college and I got much better grades than my parents did at my age. I got accepted into a well-respected university. I went to university with very high expectations of myself. And I wasn’t measuring up. I was barely keeping up with the work and found most things much harder than I’d been anticipating. All the way through school I had applied myself and when something got tough I just worked harder at it. But at university I was in over my head. There weren’t enough hours in the day to apply to all the things that I found difficult.

I was revising for my exams. I remember talking to my dad on the phone and explaining that I was hoping to pass. He said that wasn’t good enough. If I wasn’t going to get a 1st, then why going to university? Why have a sub-standard degree? My dad didn’t actually classify on the degree course that he got onto through clearing, as I recall. He just passed. I was looking at passing and not classifying. And honestly, that was the best that I could do. I was upset that my dad couldn’t see that I was working hard but worse, I was upset because I was a disappointment. I was letting him down by not doing well enough.

On the day that I took my second solid mechanics exam, which had been my worst subject in the first semester and would be my most hated subject all the way through my degree, I took an overdose.

It wasn’t a big overdose. I took double the recommended dose of an anti-histamine I was taking that had a sedative effect. It was helping me sleep without having to go to the doctor. But in my head, it was an overdose. I wrote a note. It said “I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to keep on living.” I lay in bed in the dark and panic began to creep over me. What had I done?

I phoned my best friend Silver, praying that he’d answer. He lived next door and I knew he turned his phone off before he went to bed but I didn’t know who else I could call about this. I almost choked on the words.

“I’ve taken an overdose.” The response was instantaneous.

“I’m coming over, don’t go anywhere.”

I got dressed and he called an ambulance. It couldn’t come up the university residences because the gates were shut at night so we had to walk across campus to go meet it. The pills were starting to kick in and I was so tired I could barely stand up. My friend more or less dragged me across campus. It was gone midnight and things were largely quiet. We passed someone that we knew and Silver said that we were out for a walk whilst I leaned heavily on his arm. I was only semi-conscious. I drifted in and out of consciousness in the ambulance and sitting around at the hospital as people looked at me and talked about me. They put me in a bed and made me drink liquid charcoal. I don’t recall ever having drunk anything so foul. The point was that it would absorb the pills so that they didn’t overload my liver and cause it fail. I managed about three quarters of it before I could barely keep it down. Then they let me sleep.

The following day was hard work. Silver came back to the hospital to meet me when they discharged me. We were signing the contract for our house for the following academic year. We walked there and I had a bath and signed the contract and crept upstairs and fell asleep on the bed in the empty room that would be mine. I was completely exhausted and nobody knew what had gone on the night before. When I got back to my room on campus the note was there, waiting for me on my desk. I didn’t know what to feel. I was tired of everything.

Phoning my mum was the worst part. I wasn’t sure what she’d say but what I wasn’t prepared for was the crushing disappointment in her voice.

“Why?” she asked.

I didn’t have an answer.

Up to Scratch

Whilst I won’t always write chronologically, this post actually follows on from Bird is the Word.

So we’re in 2005. I survived my exams, although I failed two of them. How they let me pass the semester when I got 35% on two of my exams is beyond me. I had to do extra work and that was that. Just before Easter, I finally flipped. I’d just been to see the doctor, and he asked me if I was suicidal. Who asks someone if they’re suicidal? It’s like an invitation. You don’t ask that question if you’re expecting someone to say no. I often feel that I only flipped out because it was expected of me. Two days after the doctors appointment, on a Sunday morning, I sat in my kitchen with a knife and drew three thin lines across the back of my hand with it. I made myself bleed. They were nothing, barely scratches. But I had inflicted them on myself, and that tipped me from borderline depressed to “flipping out” ill. I turned up to church and I still remember watching my best friend’s face pale when he saw me. “What have you done?” he said, and I can hear the sadness in his voice.

I spent the day in a numb haze being passed from person to person. I was taken to the hospital to see the emergency doctor. The doctor said that I was fine but I shouldn’t cut myself again. I cried and said I couldn’t promise anything. A friend slept on my floor so that I wasn’t alone. The following morning we set off for a big Christian camp. My friends switched around whose car I was in so that I was with someone who knew what was going on. In some ways I felt better, because now I was no longer a borderline case. I’d done what was expected of me and now I had something they could treat.

I was given a prescription for Prozac and warned that the first few weeks were likely to be hard work. The doctor was not kidding. The Christian camp was horrific – the Christians I was hanging out with were largely the happy clappy kind and I couldn’t stand to be around them. I wasn’t supposed to be left alone but I could find ways to escape and I cut myself whenever I could.

You need to understand that cutting is in and of itself not a bad thing. Just as having an affair is a symptom of problems rather than the actual problem itself, so cutting wasn’t the biggest of my worries. Cutting made me feel better. I didn’t understand it back then. I knew that it helped but I didn’t know why. I knew I was worrying everyone around me but I was completely numb to them. I watched them with idle curiosity as they asked constantly if I was okay and panicked because I was injuring myself. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. That’s why you have a pain threshold. It’s incredibly difficult to seriously maim yourself if you have even a shred of your own sense. I used to cut myself and it hurt, but I never seriously injured myself. I was very clean about my implement and about cleaning myself up afterwards. The cutting was worrying, but it was just a sign that I was unhinged. It took me a while to realise that I was more worried about the cutting than any medical professional I ever met. I have a fairly healthy relationship with self -harm now. (And I still do it, very rarely.)

I wouldn’t say that week was one of the hardest of my life but I don’t remember enjoying anything about it.

After that I began to see a counsellor. I don’t remember too much about those first sessions, except that they were quite helpful. In order to get the most out of counselling I think you need to have half an idea what it is you want to get out of it. I just needed to understand what was going through my head. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t like being a student much because I’d taken a gap year and I was older than a lot of my friends, both in age and worldly wisdom. I was confused by the attitude of my housemates who did as little as possible and laughed at me for getting up early in the morning. On the flip side, I was starting to like myself and that was scary because growing up, every time I ever felt I liked myself I’d been rejected by everyone around me. Towards the end of the counselling I was finally beginning to accept myself. We talked about forgiving the pitiful wreck I’d been as a teenager who didn’t understand what self-worth was. Slowly but surely, and helped quite a lot by the pills once they finally kicked in, I started to recover.

Until the next set of exams came around.

Bird is the Word

I was first diagnosed with depression in my first year at university. (Guessing January 2005, which makes me 19.) I went to see the doctor because I wasn’t sleeping. I was upset and stressed about my exams and I asked for something to help me through. He asked what was bothering me, and I mentioned a situation with a boy that was I was really struggling with. The doctor gave me three sleeping pills, said that I was borderline depressed, and asked me to come back when the exams were over.

Bird and I were quite good friends. I really, really liked him. I didn’t want to jump into a relationship but one of my friends encouraged me to ask him out for coffee so that we could get to know each other. I did so, and Bird freaked out. He eventually found me later that evening and said he didn’t like me as more than a friend. I was confused. That wasn’t what I’d asked. But Bird had spoken to my friends to ask how he should let me down gently and that was the first time I had been shown respect by a boy. I didn’t sleep that night. I stayed up, crying and thinking because I was so happy. I’d found my first shred of self worth in years. Bird was amazing, because he cared enough to want to treat me the right way, even though he was letting me down.

The problem was that what Bird said and what he did were two different things. He said that he didn’t want a relationship with me, but he flirted with me constantly. We had a very physical friendship – he would grab hold of me and pull me close against him sometimes. Looking back I see the submissive in me was alive even then, because that used to turn me on. (Not that I understood what that meant then, because I was still playing at relationships then. I didn’t have anything approximating a physical relationship for another two years. I didn’t have my first orgasm until I was 22. I was late 23 when I first had sex. I’m still learning about my body responses!) It’s not like he flirted with everyone else either – he was socially awkward and I know that he struggled to talk to me about serious stuff a lot of the time.

My friends said that Bird liked me a lot. I protested that he said he wasn’t interested, but everyone else said otherwise. I got caught in the middle. What was I supposed to think? I remember talking to my best friend one time about it and he said “isn’t it obvious that he’s in love with you? Obvious to everyone but him.” I didn’t choose the best path of dealing. I chose to try and believe Bird, because that was the thing that made sense. If he didn’t want a relationship, then he didn’t. That was all there was to it. His flirting and his actions towards me must not mean anything sexual, and my friends were wrong. I tried to believe the lie.

And I ended up at the doctors. Because the lie ate away at me and I didn’t know my own thoughts. I couldn’t trust my feelings. I couldn’t trust people. I was tired and stressed. I would generally stay up til 3am of a night because I didn’t want to go to sleep. The doctor said that if I felt out of control I should come back and we would work out a plan to fix me. I was stunned. I’d never had a diagnosed mental health problem until then. I think I probably felt low a lot as a teenager but nobody had ever told me that it was depression. Depression was a genuine thing, not a rough patch. I cried and cried. I told Bird and he didn’t know what to do. He was little better than a child.

I’ve seen him since the end of that first year when he graduated and left and he generally doesn’t seem to have grown up. I don’t know what I really saw in him. We’re okay now, but it’s not without an edge of confusion that I see him. I still wonder exactly what was going on in his head. And I will never know. I don’t think he knew. We were still growing up and you make tons of mistakes trying to figure out who you are.

In lots of ways, I feel like our story hasn’t ended. Because that was just the beginning of my battle with depression. It is a battle which is ongoing, but every time it happens I get better at dealing with it.

To be continued….