Content warning: self-harm and suicide, mental illness, violence/violent imagery
I kneel with towels, mopping, mumbling, It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault. It’s not.
It’s all falling in. It’s all falling down and I’m falling in and falling down and it’s flooding.
My son, confused about which tap is hot and which is cold, because he’d been away (it’s not his fault) leaves the cold tap running, gushing, into the bath, over the sides of the bath, into the bathroom, out of the bathroom, down the stairs, through the carpets, over the floorboards. Overwhelmed the overflow – the built-in safety mechanism, built to prevent damage, built for just-in-case.
It wasn’t enough.
There was too much.
It all came pouring down, over the carpet on the stairs, down through the ceilings, down the walls, dripping into the light switches.
Dreams I’ve had lately: falling; sliding down a helter-skelter; sand in my mouth; my old school building; secret rooms, like hidden gems, behind my bedroom; flying; being trapped inside the marriage that I walked away from years ago; jumping from a window from a great height, landing unscathed, drop roll; my running shoes; a car crash; my three children waving from a boat; being chained; one last jigsaw piece that never seems to fit.
These two hours before the others wake is like a bridge I cross, from my subconscious, a tangled mess of pictures, sounds, and voices, sliding into one another, grey and blurred and not of this world. I am not yet ready to be real. I need to slowly get to grips with who I’m meant to be.
I wish I could be better.
My youngest daughter tells me, “I’m starting to see less of myself in the mirror these days,” and I know exactly how she feels.
Over 200 people have committed or attempted suicide by jumping from the Humber Bridge. Hundreds more have been rescued from apparent intent to jump.
Samaritans signs greet all who approach the paths. “Talk to us if things are getting to you.” A phone number.
How desperate one must be to think these murky waters are a better option.
I am slicing mushrooms. Half a chopping board’s worth of mushrooms undergo the knife blade, one by one. The spongy cross-sections start to tumble off the sides of the board, onto the kitchen countertop. In a few minutes, my half-board’s worth has become almost a board and a half, overspilling, taking up more space than before. As things come apart, they need more room, take up much more. Need more beneath to support them. Hold them.
Now I am thinking of entropy. More of things coming apart. As they fall to pieces, come adrift, they take up less space now, over time. More space between, until the dust of tiny particles almost disappears. Though it’s never gone, is it? Not really. Those fallen-apart pieces still exist somewhere, doing who knows what. To break an electrical circuit connection. To sneak into pores and wreak pus-filled infection in an inner layer. Specks of chaos-in-waiting.
I feel the bits of me splitting off, sending tiny particles, like splinters, out into nowhere. My family mostly carry on around me, beneath me, as I sit for days in this bed, sometimes unwashed, always undressed, my pyjamas increasingly crumpled and creased. When someone enters the room, I feel their faces turned to me like the moon – open, expectant – feel them trying to bore into me, to read me. My two remaining children, open-faced, never ask aloud, but just their presence in my room inquires, “Are you in there, mum?”
I can’t answer.
Yes, I am.
And no, I’m not.
And yes, maybe.
Bits of me.
Maybe it’s all in here somewhere, but I’m not sure you’d recognise it now. I’m like a Lego house, dismantled, all its bricks detached from one another. No form or structure. All the pieces are still here, I’m sure, but someone needs to scoop them out and put them all together.
When I was six years old, I played the part of Humpty Dumpty in a school play. Something about bedtime stories, nursery rhyme characters taking turns on stage in tiny, mini narratives, in role. I was supposed to sing along. We all know Humpty’s plot: I fall, I’m smashed, irreparable. Valiant efforts are made, but no matter how hard the team of men and horses try, I can’t be rallied. That was what was meant to happen.
Six-year-old me couldn’t stay in character. My parents waving from the back of the hall distracted me, and I forgot to fall. Forgot to break. Peter and Stephen, representatives of the royal cavalry, rode up on cardboard horses and were forced to stop me waving, to push me off my wall, for the sake of the narrative of putting me back together.
The hole in the kitchen ceiling has grown. It is bigger now, but its edges are neater. Men have pulled bits off the edges. Made it easier to fix. Apparently.
At 4 am, I wake, convinced a tree is sprouting, forcing itself through the floorboards. Before, it was floors that always worried me. Woodlice in the porch hinted at the rising damp. Nothing felt solid. Now it’s roofs and ceilings I mistrust, always waiting for a drip, seeking water stains on ceiling plaster. I used to be scared we were sinking. Now I’m scared we’re floating.
The space bar isn’t working properly and everythingis blurring into one. To make a space, I needtopress hard, need to really decide a spaceis needed.When I stopand try to read it back tomyself, it makes me breathless. Pause.Slowdown. Pressharder. Find the space.
The Humber Bridge’s two towers – slender, tall, concrete symbols of strength and support – are, in fact, hollow.
The walls don’t collapse when the men rip out the kitchen. I stay in bed, afraid that the flood through the ceiling caused such catastrophic structural damage that the kitchen cupboards had been acting as a sort of buttress, propping up the walls, that – like soggy cardboard – they will sink into the middle of the house and down will come the roof and that will be that.
This does not happen, but our kitchen now is a shell of dust and uneven surfaces.
Our kitchen is something that once was perfectly functional, if not in any way beautiful, now with its insides ripped from it.
It no longer performs the function for which it was made. No one can make a cup of tea here, no meals can be cooked, no water flows. There are pipes and wires and openings which once brought in essential services, but there is nowhere for all these inputs to be put into.
My daughter is gone. Insides ripped. Scarred. I cannot do what I thought I was made to do. A kitchen without any meals. A mother without her child. And it is still flowing and there is nowhere to put it; nothing to make from it. The input just keeps flowing, and I don’t know where it is all flooding into now.
There is one corner of this God-forsaken open-plan design, this modern building built for maximum visibility, one corner in one classroom where I know I won’t be seen. Left of the door, obscured from the window by the cupboard full of textbooks, no camera peers here. When I will look back on this moment, I will say I wasn’t thinking straight, but somehow I have the forethought to hide here, to escape the corridor’s tsunami of awaking teenagers, conceal myself from duty staff who clutch their morning travel mugs, breathe steam, their shoulders hunched against the day. I huddle down inside my own ending, feel it pressing into me, out of me.
This classroom isn’t used for morning registration. I’m thinking straight enough to know this. I pull at my silver bangle, tug the cool curves against my wrist. Redden my skin as it presses past my bones. Grip it in my fisted hands, beat the rhythm of an anguished prayer at my forehead, thud the metal in between my eyebrows. Thump like a bass drum but hear no tune.
Waiting room chair. Plastic. Hands tucked under thighs. The voices are buzzing buzzing buzzing. No words just noise they’re saying nothing and it’s buzzing in my head. All the nothing noise.
Eve Darwood, Room 1 please.
“What can I do for you?”
The words won’t come. There’s just a nothing noise buzzing in my head I’m shaking.
Am I shaking?
Does she want an answer I can’t answer I can’t nothing
buzzing noise no answer
Another sheet of green.
If I take one of these the noise will stop and I’ll go back.
I perch on the kitchen stool. The radio sounds the midday pips. The headlines talk of the UK government’s tough new approach to border control. Syria is refusing to allow aid convoys access. It seems everyone is trying to keep something out, while, here I am, allowing something in.
Tablet. Tea. Take with or after food. A slice of toast. An hour. I give myself an hour. Then two. Then say, No more. No time. No more time. Tea. The car.
Dreams of floating sinking darkness shining lights blinding worms between my toes screaming crumpled green papers stuffed in my mouth too much green too many papers choking sinking
“Because you’re my friend, I think I owe it to you to be honest. This is selfish. You need to just fight harder. You are better than this.”
Her voice sounds like we’re at far ends of a tunnel – I can hear a sound, but it is just reverberating, not quite reaching me. I recognise the tone, the sound of someone who wants to – needs to – do the right thing. I have been that person. But I am not her, not now. I’m losing sight of what the right things to do could be. All I know now is there are no right things, not for me, not today.
Insides ripped out. Scarred. Uneven surfaces. The walls are collapsing.
I make the train journey to Maytree Sanctuary for the suicidal on a Monday. Monday feels like a good day to start stopping being suicidal.
I later realise that this is too much to expect from Monday.
As I leave the tube station, the strap of my holdall digs into skin and bones on my shoulder. I expect it to bruise.
I’ve always feared the tube. Irrational fears: being stabbed in my seat. Falling through the gap we’re told to mind; getting swallowed up.
I’m not afraid today. Let this underground maze swallow me.
I don’t mind the gap.
I’m seeking the gap, craving it.
Someone, find me the gap.
Here’s what I think of when I think of the underground: the impossibility of so much activity under the surface. Whole cities-worth of comings and goings; tunnels like capillaries pulsing beneath, unseen except for spaced-out entrances like wounds gaping onto pavements; invitations to a hidden world underfoot.
I think how easily the surface can hide the facts of what is taking place – all those potential suicides, historic fires, angry transport union strikes, the holes, the vacant space.
A world of disasters never seen above ground.
Maytree looks like any North London family home on a leafy street. The front door has no tell-tale signs of what lies behind it. Inside, I take my holdall to the room I’ve been assigned on the first floor. It is simple. Monastic. A single bed. Blankets and curtains in soft, muted colours – pale greens, winter-sunshine lemon, the blue of a sky in early spring.
After sitting for a few minutes, a gentle knock on my door, an offer of camomile tea, I’m shown around the communal downstairs areas. Two lounges with framed watercolour sunrises, rainbows, forests, lakes, and beaches, crocheted blankets on oversized sofas. Piles of jigsaw puzzles sit on shelves beside books. The Power of Now. Walden. The Chimp Paradox. In the kitchen, most of the drawers have locks on the front.
We are, however, allowed unlimited access to the spoons.
Tom is the volunteer counsellor on shift on my first night here. He arrives at 9.30, as I’m descending the stairs, my hair wet from my half-hour soak in the bath, skin still wrinkled on my fingers, clean sweatpants and hoodie wrapping me in a cocoon of fabric, crumpled from the holdall I pulled it from earlier. I’m clean. I’m ready for a cup of camomile tea, but I don’t think I’m ready for sleep. I also don’t think I’m ready for conversation, but when Tom asks how I’m doing, I find myself sliding down onto a padded chair at the dining table, opposite him.
I exhale. Fiddle with the square of paper on the end of the string dangling into the cup, watch the boiled water turn golden as the camomile infuses. The flavour seeps out. I feel like I’m expected to do the same, like I’m supposed to be porous, let it all pour through my seams, let the tears and sadness, all the emotions that brought me here, escape their confines and dance hysterically across the table. A box of tissues in the centre of the scratched oak surface signposts the right way to do being suicidal. Maybe I’m just attention-seeking. Maybe there should be more tears, more tissues. Maybe I should feel.
Tom sips his tea until I find myself unable to allow the silence any longer.
“I don’t feel like I want to kill myself. Don’t want to die. I just don’t feel like living at the moment.”
“That sounds normal.”
“What, not feeling?”
“Yes. The important thing is not to judge your feelings …”
“That’s the point though. I don’t think I’ve got feelings to judge. It’s just … nothing. I don’t even care. I can’t say I’m someone you need to be hiding the knives from. I don’t even care about the knives, I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t have it in me to take a knife or pills or a rope or … I don’t even know how I’d do it. Is that lame? I’m here because I convinced the lady on the phone that I was suicidal and I can’t even be properly suicidal because I don’t care about dying enough to make it happen. The thing is, I don’t care about living enough to make that happen either. I don’t care. That’s how I feel. Like I just don’t feel anything.”
Back in my room, I scribble in my journal.
I’ve even failed at failing. I wish I could cry.
“Could you write to her? If she won’t take your calls, even if you don’t send the letter, it could help to get your feelings down on paper.”
Dear Erica, I don’t think I’ll ever send this. Dear Erica, I don’t even know where to start. Dear Erica, I know you’re angry with me, and I can’t say that I understand, because I don’t Dear Erica, I am writing this to tell you how I feel, but the truth is, I don’t even know these days. Dear Erica, I miss you. Dear Erica,
This is too hard. I can’t.
By the evening I have filled a quarter of the notebook.
After my mid-morning counselling session on Day Four, I walk to the café by the lake in Finsbury Park, buying a new A4 notepad in the newsagents on the way. I fill five pages over two pots of tea and a cream scone. When the December light begins to fade, the café staff stack chairs up on the tables, mop the floor around me, swirling the day’s footsteps into muddy puddles, diluting them, swishing back and forth, each swipe cleaner than the last. I pack up my pencil case and walk back down the dusty, dusky streets. Streetlamps pour puddles of light onto the pavement, illuminating globs of chewing gum, discarded cigarette butt-ends, scrunched up receipts.
I walk between the pools of light and shade.
The day before I’m due to leave, I wake from nightmares, cold, sweating, stiff in the shoulder from imagined struggles with my holdall. Strap-mark bruises felt but not seen.
How can I carry it home?
My heart thuds when I imagine walking through the concourse at King’s Cross, the tube stations I will need to navigate to even get to that point. The street outside, how far it seemed on Monday.
I mentally evaluate the clothes I brought, the book where I’ve written all my raging sadness. Beginnings of letters to my daughter, to my husband, to my mum, to my future self.
What can I afford to leave behind? There’s nothing I’m willing to discard; it’s all my stuff, and I need or want it to come home with me. I walk outside, pace on the decking, grab my coat and march down the busy high street, past a shop I’d seen earlier in the week with lined up luggage underneath its awning. Suitcases in every rainbow colour stand to attention like soldiers on parade. Wheeled. Easy-wheel their labels read.
I buy a purple floral case on wheels, put my old holdall in the outside wheelie bin, pile my jumpers, jeans, my running shoes and all my books into the case, amazed at how much space remains. I wheel it back and forth down the hall.
My shoulder pain subsides.
I catch the train home, intact.
No lighter, but with the load rearranged, easier to carry.