Personal Monday: The Importance of Others
The following is my recollection of the worst day of my life. It helped begin an important process and it is now a part of my story that I am ready to share.
It was Saturday afternoon. I was clearing tables in the café in which I worked. I'd been working there part-time since January and things had got progressively worse as the months had passed. I now knew only dark days. There was no light. I had almost forgotten how to smile. My father and two close friends were the only individuals with whom I was capable of spending any length of time and this was only made possible by the fact that I felt I could cry freely in front of them, which I invariably did. Anyone else's company was a form of torture. I had to pretend I was listening to their news, feign interest in what they were saying, nod, smile, laugh and express enthusiasm about suggestions of activities in which I would later create an excuse not to partake.
Looking back now, I can remember very little of the year up to that sunny August Saturday. I remember even less about the previous few years and likewise very little about the years that followed it. That whole period is a dark, hopeless haze of a deepening dread of having to keep going. I hated myself for not having quite enough of whatever it would have taken to end it. I feared time. It was my worst enemy. I felt uncomfortable doing anything but crying and sleeping, when my mind would be blank.
I know facts about what happened during this time, rather than possessing memories. I know that I created a fantasy around an utterly unsustainable ‘relationship' I had with a man who was himself suffering from alcoholism, in which everything would somehow magically turn out beautifully in a way I had not yet managed to fabricate. I know that my poor mother came close to asking me to leave the family home over this and several other, awful realities of the person I'd become. I know that I managed to drag myself out of this relationship after something particularly horrible prompted me to realise how unhealthy (nay, how completely unreal) it was.
I know that my young cousin died tragically and that I didn't even feel that I was present during the days surrounding his death and funeral, let alone feeling the solidarity which one would ideally feel at such a time, when surrounded by family. Instead I stood alone, consumed by guilt that I was not the person in the grave.
I know that without my father and those two friends, things could have gone in a direction that I do not now care to contemplate.
I also know that during this dreadful period, I became accomplished at concentrating very hard on that which made up my shifts at that café, during which I escaped from the overwhelming belief that I could not ‘do life'. I focused unwaveringly on the plates, the cups, the bread, the coffee machine, the chopping, the cleaning, chatting with customers. My internal monologue consisted of "Just gather up these plates…just clean this table…just greet this man and ask what he would like…just open the cash register…just mop this spill…" I could not contemplate further ahead than the next half an hour, at most.
At approximately 3pm that August Saturday, I looked at the clock and broke. I had thought it was 5pm at the earliest, which would mean I only had to do another hour until it would be time to begin the end-of-the-day jobs, before closing up at 6.30pm. That would be another shift over and then it was simply a case of going home and hopefully there would be something happening in the house which I could sit and observe until it was acceptable to go to bed. It was only a few hours really. I could manage that. I did not dare to think about there being a tomorrow to do after this. Just get through the evening.
But when I saw the actual time and realised there were three hours to go through before I could think about leaving, I forgot where I was. I don't know how I didn't drop the tray in my hand. I do remember just about getting into the kitchen before I began weeping uncontrollably. I could not stop. I don't remember thinking very much. My manager must have come in and spoken to me because my father was called and he came to collect me. I think I stood outside the back door of the café, where no one could see me, for the fifteen minutes it took him to drive up for me. I can't recall what happened between this and getting home but a while later I was sitting on my bed. I had not stopped crying and I hadn't really thought about trying to do so.
I was aware that one of my sisters, whom no longer lived at home, had called down that afternoon and was in the kitchen talking to my mother. I hated them for being in the same room as the medicine cabinet and I berated myself for not visiting the several pharmacies around the village, during my lunch-break. What a fool I was not to prepare properly. I had known this time would come. And this evening was certainly the time. There was no other option. This was it.
A quiet, faint voice inside me did strain to be heard. It told me to go up and tell my mother and sister what I was thinking. It was too quiet though. I would not tell anyone about this.
And then my brother knocked on the door of my bedroom. My dear, sweet, older brother had watched my descent in silence in the preceding years, unsure as to how he could possibly help in a situation of which he had absolutely no understanding. Now, he came in and knelt beside my bed. He had a pen and paper in his hand. He did not refer to my state or the fact that I had returned from work early.
He began to talk to me about his plans to buy a new van. He had figures relating to tax and insurance, and explained to me that if he bought his own van, rather than continuing to use the company van, he would be classed as self-employed…or something along those lines. I wasn't really able to listen properly or take in what he was saying very well, but I concentrated very hard on the figures on the page and nodded as he told me how his decision might affect his income and expenditure.
By the time he had completed the proposal of his plan, I felt just a fraction more grounded than I had felt a few minutes prior to that. I left the room with him and floated around for the rest of the evening, just managing to make myself stay connected to the people surrounding me, forcing myself to focus on the conversations of family members, not thinking about anything in particular.
There was no light bulb moment. There were no amazing words of inspiration. There was no internal revelation that life was worth living, and it was a very long time before I came to understand just how worthwhile living is, which I can now proudly say I do. But my brother's wonderfully mundane, everyday words that Saturday enabled me to re-connect with the world around me just enough to prevent my dangerous train of thought going any further. I did not feel enormously happy about living, but the desire to die had abated.
My brother will never know that, in that moment, he saved my life. Ultimately, I saved myself in the long run. But what I needed that awful evening was a dose of normality. I needed a reminder that the world was going on and I could partake in some way if I wished, even if I was only nodding at someone's explanation of his financial plans.
He reached in, in a way that made sense to him. He helped me ground myself for just long enough to stop wanting to leave this life. With an enormous amount of support from many individuals, I grew to realise my own strength and worth, and now I enjoy living in so many ways that I never want to leave.
None of us should ever choose to leave. We do not always see it clearly, but we are needed, we are important, and we are loved. I am so grateful that I see this now.
Thank you to M for her beautiful sharing. This story is an invaluable piece of learning for everyone - those who are in distress and those who wish to reach out to someone they know that is stuck in the darkness. We are all significant in one another's lives and our presence is important even when we don't realise it. We can all help each other and ourselves if we just re-direct our thinking. In the darkest of moments when all seems lost just wait. Don't act on the destructive thoughts - sit tight and wait, you won't regret it.