I think of Baku when I feel depressed. I’ve never been to Azerbaijan and before last year I had no intention of ever going. But now, it’s my happy place. The place I go to when I’m scared or sad or feeling anything that is at all unpleasant. I’m in a little cafe in Baku, wearing something fabulous, perhaps the elegant black jumpsuit I’ve worn once that sits in the back of my wardrobe, along with some oversized sunglasses and the glittery black kitten heels I’m saving for a special night. I have a glass of champagne in my hand. I’m straight-edge so I’m not sure why I would ever want to drink that, or even if I could in a Muslim country but in my happy place, I do drink it as I look out on the Caspian Sea.
Then I open my eyes and I’m back to reality. It’s not so bad really. My husband is kind and works hard to make my life easier. It’s hard for him to watch the vivacious young woman he married slip away from him though. My son has his own struggles and is registered disabled but he feels like it’s his job to make me smile. I hate that he knows his mum is sad but love that he is keen to see me happy. I have a dog who keeps resting his head on my lap and looking at me, willing me to share my pain. He’s the best therapist in the world. I have a roof over my head and someone thought I was worth granting a mortgage to, but that was a few years ago now.
I don’t have a lot of friends because I’m an odd person and always have been, but I have readers and I have a huge Twitter following. Sometimes people make comments about me being on Twitter all the time. They think I’m addicted, or looking for validation or something like that. The truth is that if I tweet, someone will reply and as long as someone is waiting for me to respond, I have to stay here. I have to respond. I like to feel that I’m needed and useful to people. It makes me feel like I can’t possibly give in to the temptation to end my life. So, what looks like addiction to some or book promo to others is actually a type of survival technique.
The thought gives me chills and makes me sad so then I flit off to Uruguay. I’ve never been to Uruguay. In my head I’m on Punta del Este, teaching English to someone who speaks very little of my rich, colourful language. The sky is stormy and threatening, which I love and I’m eating churros coated in cinnamon sugar and dipped in chocolate. All is well with the world.
I do this a lot. I fly off to other places in my head as a way to remind myself that I need to stay alive in order to fulfil these dreams. I’m always caught in that odd place, halfway between wanting to be dead so everything stops hurting and clinging on to that survival instinct that all humans have. I’m not a generally depressed person. I’m quite positive. I like dishing out compliments and believing in myself and others. I believe that my best days are yet to come and that the way I feel is a reaction to things that have happened to me. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not broken and don’t need to be fixed. I just need a rest from all the shit for a while.
I do a lot of things that would be classed as self-care. I do them when things get tough and I do them when I’m feeling fragile. That’s a lot. I make rocky road flavoured hot chocolates in heatwaves because they’re soothing and I eat ice-cream in winter because it’s comforting. I apply make-up and I tweet. I write. I write books, I write blogs and I write in my journal because those who leave records behind write history, according to my Open University course. It makes me feel like I have worth. I’m writing history. I’m a part of something bigger.
And then something will happen. It usually involves someone outside of my house. Perhaps I’ve been trolled by a stranger. I could have been ignored in the street by someone I considered a friend. Maybe I tried to seek help from someone in a position of authority and responsibility and they were unreasonable, unkind or plain rude to me. And it sends me back down that helterskelter. I have mental clarity but my emotions are chaotic and it’s difficult to regulate them. I get stuck on one. It could be anger or disappointment or hurt and I hear a selection of negative comments from my past replayed in my head. Some hinting at their disdain, others just telling me straight what they think.
‘I can imagine you like…weird stuff.’
‘You should definitely write… if you feel like you have to.’
‘I just don’t understand why anyone would want to see that band.’
‘My problem with you is that you are the worm who turned.’
‘When you’re on your game, you’re very good. Problem is, you’re not on your game very often.’
‘There are pages missing from your book.’
‘If I was like her I would put down my pen in shame and never write again.’
‘You are a horrible person.’
And then there are memories of the people who haven’t said anything to my face. They just vanish from my life, ignore me for no good reason, delete me on social media, pretend they don’t see me in the street. There are memories of the extended family I cherished revealing out of the blue on Facebook one random Sunday morning in November that they actually can’t stand me and never could, all because someone reported a photo that was posted and they decided it was me who did it. It wasn’t. Memories of ex-boyfriends cheating, male friends “joking” about drugging me, people I trusted turning out to be very untrustworthy, people blaming me for my son’s autism because I’m not much of a talker. And it aches.
And then I cry until my head hurts and my eyes dry out and my face flushes. Still stuck on that one emotion. And no amount of hot chocolate, or make-up or writing will help. So I put on a travelogue audiobook from the meditation app I have on my phone and it takes me to Russia, to the Trans-Siberian Railway and I’m lost in a world where they speak Russian or Tatar and eventually I end up in Vladivostok, looking out at the Pacific Ocean.
I remind myself when I wake up and feel less chaotic that what I want is to feel better and to feel better I have to be alive. If I’m dead, I can’t feel anything. And it makes me all the more determined to have a productive day. I smile like I mean it and bury my head in my textbooks or write stories about a feline detective. I eat the best I can and I wear pretty clothes, knowing that eventually, I will feel better. But I know that at some point throughout the day, the idea of dying will come back into my head so I try to focus on how I want my life to be instead.
If you’re suicidal, it doesn’t mean you’re staring at a razor wanting to cut your wrists or fingering the blister pack of pills, planning to take them all. You could be moving through life, seemingly just fine on the outside. But anyone who looks closely can see that you’re dead behind the eyes. There’s no sparkle there. Most people don’t look closely enough. Some do but don’t care. Then there are others who see it, care, but it scares the hell out of them so they ignore it. Others try to help by threatening to betray your confidence and call the police, to tell them you’re planning to hurt yourself, not realising that just because you think it doesn’t mean you’re imminently going to do it.
Sometimes, it’s easier to just not talk about it. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel it, or that you’re in denial about how you truly are. It doesn’t even mean that you’re “covering up.” You simply don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or upset. Sometimes you’ve sought help from friends or family or doctors and been denied it. And that makes you feel even more alone. I personally tried to get help last year and was told that if I got treatment from a psychologist, my son’s school nurse might be notified and there was nothing I could do about that. Being a mother meant I had no right to keep my problems between me and my psychologist or and they are legally allowed to share it with the school. I chose to turn down that chance of help, hoping it would retain my privacy. It was too late by then though. His health visitor shared it with the school. By writing this blog, I make it public. I take back control of who knows. It makes me feel powerful again.
I’m not here to tell you how to handle those emotions or that you should talk about them. I think everyone has to do what is best for them. That might mean eating ice-cream for dinner or it could mean calling someone to get a listening ear. I hate when people say, “You’re not alone” because it’s such a generic, blanket statement to throw at anyone who is depressed. You may well be alone. You may have nobody to talk to. It’s possible that you don’t have access to help. All I will say is, you don’t know what’s ahead. Your best days could be yet to come. Life is confusing and unfair. The world is full of dickholes. There is no quick fix. I wish there was. But there’s always the power of the human spirit and as long as you can think and imagine, you are never powerless. And this is what I keep telling myself through the good days. One day I’ll have so many good days, I’ll be out of that hole forever and I’ll be strong enough to handle the bad days.
And on the bad days, I think of Baku.