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I’m writing this here because… well I don’t know, really. Part of me is hopeful that it helps other people, and part of me is hoping that maybe this will help myself.
On the 28th of October in 2017, my uncle lost a brief battle with cancer. It was abrupt; he was diagnosed and on his deathbed within six weeks. I wonder now if the accelerated nature of his dying contributed to me never fully acknowledging that I didn’t process it, but that’s a thought for a different time. The point is that he went to his doctor with an inability to keep food down and he walked away with 2 months to live.
I never really got the chance to see him in his final days. Between our schedules and his frequent visits to the hospital, and living an hour apart by car, over the time he had left our paths never crossed. I was quite close to him when I was younger, but in my early 20’s we’d grown apart somewhat. We never really changed though, still the same dynamic even after all those years.
I think I’m traumatised. I’m not medically trained and I have no other experience with death that I can remember, but if I were to guess I’d say that the impact this left on me was significant. Despite that, when everything happened I felt I had followed the proper procedure for grieving. I saw a psychologist with a mental health care plan that outlined bereavement. I cried at his funeral. I thought I was working past it. Obviously, I thought wrong.
I spent the most part of 2020 and 2021 in Covid lockdown. I heard all the stories and saw the articles about how it was impacting young people’s mental health, and I assumed that I was simply fine with it. There’s no form of machismo or ‘tough guy attitude’ at work here, I’m simply a lonely person by nature, with no friends in the first place. I still had my family and I was fine with that, or so I thought. Then, after a while I started having some thoughts.
“Why are we here? What’s the point of it all? Why are people born if they’re just going to die? What’s after that?” People have their own answers for these questions. Some people, like me, have no answers, and nowhere they turn seems to offer any. A month ago, these thoughts started plaguing me. Where were they coming from? Why was this happening to me? I’d questioned my existence before, that’s true, but I thought I’d come to terms with that when I was younger. Even as my appetite failed me and sleep eluded me, I naively believed that I was fine, and it was a phase that would pass. Maybe the dreaded lockdown was finally getting to me, you know?
That was until last thursday, when I broke down into tears. My parents are separated, but my mother agreed to pick me up and let me spend some time at her house on the weekend when I called her out of confusion and dread. (I don’t have a driver’s licence, due to chronic anxiety that I can’t control. I know, go figure). For some reason I couldn’t understand, that wasn’t good enough for me. I didn’t want to be selfish; my parents have their own lives, and I’m supposed to be an adult now, so I should be able to handle this. Thursday night passed without much incident, my crisis of acuity notwithstanding, and then Friday morning arrived.
Friday was terrible. I’d stopped being able to eat earlier in the week and was sustaining myself mainly from cups of tea and the occasional small meal I managed in the evenings. Friday morning I decided to try to kick this habit, and made myself two slices of toast. Just two pieces of bread, one of the easiest things in the world to eat. Surely I could get through that, I thought to myself. That was until I failed to finish the last quarter of the first slice, and I suddenly realised I wasn’t alright.
I’m sure I scared my mother. She picked up the phone, I heard her say hello, and suddenly all I knew was tears. She made plans to pick me up later that day while all I could do was sob and apologise. Even now she worries that I’m suicidal, I’m not. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, until she mentioned that she felt the same was after her mother died.
I’ve been on and off the phone with Beyond Blue and Lifeline all week. Whenever I’m not on the phone crying my eyes out to a stranger, I feel numb. Thoughts swirl in my mind, wondering about when I’ll die, what I’ll see. Are souls real? Is one of the many religions out there correct? I don’t know. I don’t think I believe. I’m sorry. I’m scared.
And then, on a whim as I searched a list of helplines, I came across the number to Griefline.
It’s not the hardest I’ve cried, but it’s the most relieved I’ve felt after all this time. It was the first time I’ve felt like someone actually understood what I was going through. How scared I am, the thoughts that I can’t get out of my head, they understood it all. I’m still scared, even as I type this. The future terrifies me, especially because I know I can’t change it, but I want to move past this. I need to.
When my uncle died, I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. The last time I ever saw him, he was already dead in his hospital bed. The image of him slumped over, surrounded by our family and being held up by the multitude of wires that had just before been his only chance at living… I remember it clearly. I remember the time, it was 7:38 AM. I remember the hug I gave my grandmother. “Ruddy disease,” she’d sobbed into my ear with her thick british accent. I remember hugging my father, wondering how I was supposed to act after he’d been too late to say goodbye to his eldest brother. I remember it all. It haunts me. My path with my mental health before was dark, but in that moment all the lights felt like they had been extinguished.
My mistake was that I thought I had found a way over time to ignite them once more. Never once did I consider that I’d simply gotten used to the dark. I couldn’t see anything around me, but I tricked myself into believing that I had, feeling out my life by touch alone and ignoring everything else. I didn’t see a problem with withdrawing from the world. I didn’t see a problem with putting my life on hold indefinitely. I didn’t see a problem with not bothering anybody about my issues. Maybe I didn’t feel like I was worth it, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
Griefline was my beginning. Calling them this afternoon is the start of my journey to come to terms with life and death. I’m posting this, because looking back on the last four years, I don’t want to consider it wasted time. Covid can take some of the blame, but I have experienced many things over these last few years that are worthwhile. This life is all I can be certain that I have, and I need to find the strength within myself to grasp it. For some people that probably sounds extremely simple, but for me and many others I feel like it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I need to do this, for myself and for the family I have left that is worrying about me.
I’ve spent the last four years suffering without even noticing. I’m scared of death. I’m terrified of dying. I don’t want to do this, because every time I blink I think about leaving all my loved ones behind. But I refuse, I wholeheartedly refuse, to yield to myself this time. I’ve given myself concessions since childhood, since I was diagnosed with depression in primary school. Enough is enough.
I never realised that I hadn’t properly grieved. It’s been years for me. For others out there they might have gone even longer. If you’re reading this and you’re in the same mindset as I am as I write this, then I want you to know that I understand. I know where you’re coming from. I’ve spoken to others and felt like they didn’t understand me, but I finally found a starting place. Let this be your’s, too. Even if this is years in the future and I’ve met my end, let my words in my present guide you.
Get some help. Eat something small. drink some water. Take care of yourself. Let yourself feel some self-love.
I might reply to this thread in the future, with any updates that come my way. I’m on a waiting list with a local psychiatry office. I have appointments with my gp booked. I have some semblance of a plan going forward.
I’m scared. You might be scared too.
But right now we need to be brave.
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