In at the deep end…
So it’s 2015, I’m living and working in London. I’ve been working as a manager for a high street restaurant for a little while now. I could go on for a decade about the pressures of hospitality but that is content for another day.
Pretending I know how blazers work
Pictured: Me and some cleverly hidden faces
The days are long and tough, the hours are unsociable and plentiful, the salary is sufficient. It pays the bills but it’s really bloody stressful.
I’m living in a converted town house that has something crazy like 15 people living in little box rooms, sharing a handful of bathrooms and one inappropriately sized kitchen. For anybody who has lived at the lower end of the pay scale in the Old Smoke this is pretty much the norm. My room mate is my girlfriend of the time. Let’s call her Gwendolyn. We love each other but we have been having some pretty difficult times. I saw we, it’s absolutely, categorically me.
I’m drinking quite a bit, not sleeping well and working way too much. Oh sorry, hang on.
I’m drinking A LOT
Almost every night. But it’s OK because everybody else is, right? I’ve not been asking myself this question even though everybody else is. I’m shrugging it off like it isn’t a big deal but underneath the surface I’m constantly worried about what people think of me. I’m measuring my life against all the lifestyle ‘goals’ that have been drilled into me and always asking myself the same set of questions.
Do I have a good job? Have I bought a house? Do I own a car? Do I have any kids? Am I popular? Am I thin enough? Am I in a happy relationship? The answer to all of the above is no so I’m in a constant, sustained state of stress to say the right thing, not step a foot wrong and keep a grip on what I’ve got at the moment because it’s all I’ve got.
I can feel it in my stomach. It’s like a weight, pulling me down physically and mentally. How long have I felt like this? Months? Years? Is this what depression is?
When I’m wasted it goes numb for a few hours. It helps for the short term. But then I wake up the next day, paranoid that I’ve done or said something to upset somebody because I can’t remember what I’ve done or said the night before. So I’m drinking again to make THAT uneasy feeling go away.
But that’s OK right?
Turns out the answer is no.
Pictured: sad face
It’s Monday 6th July which also happens to be my birthday. Twenty-six years old. We are having a bit of a party at the ‘House of many Doors’ and some of the housemates are here. Some guys from work are here too. I’m not quite sure they like me but at least they have shown up and brought their own beer.
I’m given a princess tiara and a pink feather boa to celebrate in. I’m not sure if this is some kind of statement or a pisstake. Anxiety has a tendency to make you overthink everything. But I don’t know that this uneasy feeling I’ve been living with for the past eternity is anxiety. I’m not anxious or depressed, this is just how life is right?
Summer time birthdays are pretty cool because the days seem to go on forever. The sun is always shining and you can lose track of time far too easily. It’s 3pm and I’m already half cut. Most of the other guys are still at work so the party hasn’t really got started yet.
I start losing track of the events around this time. I think I’m being funny but I’m probably not. I’m wearing this Bob Marley top and some dodgy shorts because it’s my birthday and I’ll do what I like. I’ve already lost count of the number of beers I’ve had. More people turn up, the music is loud and we are partying in the street with disposable BBQs and garden furniture.
Inexplicably we have this swimming pool/budget hot tub in the ‘House of many Doors’ which you have to climb though a window to get to. I decide it’s a great idea to get in with most of my clothes still on. It isn’t a great idea at all. It’s freezing. I’ve only just realised it’s dark so it must be pretty late by now.
I head up to the bedroom to get changed and one of the lads for some ‘banter’ catches a picture of me drunkly trying to get changed and I’m butt naked. It’s already getting shared in the group chat. I’m an embarrassment.
In a split second I convince myself that I’m going to be the subject of ridicule in every social circle I’m a part of, I’ll probably lose my job for unprofessional conduct then I won’t be able to pay the rent and then we will be homeless, I say ‘we’ but it will be just ‘me’ because who is going to stay in a relationship with this stupid dick? I’ll be alone, homeless, jobless and an embarrassment to everybody I know. My worst nightmares have come true and I’ll amount to nothing.
A pretty rapid assumption for the sake of a photo, right?
But I can’t take it. I can’t see any other way out of this situation. I’m a walking laughing stock and I convince myself life is over. There is no hope in coming back from this. Years of that constant feeling of unease and panic of trying to fit in with everybody else compress into a single moment. My life has been a waste. It is absolutely overwhelming. My heart is pumping in my throat. I can’t keep my brain focussed on a single thought.
I can only describe being in that state of utter panic as a crisis. My mind starts to run away from me, attempting to play out every possible scenario and seeing all the opportunities I can fail, but not being able to hold on to a thought for any longer than a few seconds. It’s like looking into a washing machine and trying to follow one sock but everything else is tumbling around in there, then you get a big red flash of ‘Kill yourself!’ and this time it stuck.
Before I know it I’m scrambling round the bedroom grabbing everything that constitutes as medication and shoving it in my face, washing it down with booze. Gwen suffers from nasty chronic pain so she has some hefty painkillers. The kind you can’t get at the counter without a slip from the doctor. Second it’s Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, then bizarrely I’m onto Piriton and I even chuck some Imodium in before washing it down with a glug of Gaviscon?! I’m honestly not sure what I was thinking at this point but I know I’m onto the third fistful of pills, now carrying more pharmaceutical goods in my guts than your local Boots.
It isn’t working quick enough, so I take a knife to my right wrist. It really isn’t pretty and it’s not even straight! But it’s done. I’m panicked, I’m hyperventilating, I’m crying my eyes out, alone in my bedroom. I lie down just wishing it will all be over soon.
Now my memory gets really hazy, perforated with some moments of clarity. A guy from the party; let’s call him Benedict, must be looking for either me or the toilet and is a bit shocked at what he discovers. I know we wrestle with the knife for a little bit which sounds like an action move but it was more like an episode of Eastenders.
Next thing I can remember I’m in a taxi with Gwen heading to the hospital, something about an ambulance taking too long (I still love you NHS!) I am slipping in and out of consciousness. I’ve never felt my heart beat so fast, I think my body must be freaking out that it’s turned into a walking chemistry lab.
I’ve blinked and I’m in a hospital waiting room. I’ve got one of those horrible cardboard bowls and I’ve been filled with activated charcoal. I swear they only gave me a teaspoon of the stuff but it feels like I’m throwing it up for the next six hours.
I’m finally admitted to a ward and still vomiting up black, powdery tar over and over. It’s now I realise the Bob Marley top has been tied around my wrist as a makeshift tourniquet. My first thought is how annoyed I am because it’s ruined now.
A doctor comes along and tells me that we have to deal with the physical aspects of my suicide attempt. I get asked if I am likely to try and kill myself again, what I took, how much I took.
It’s all very matter of fact and I’m obviously being assessed on how much of a risk I am to myself and others around me. It dawns on me that they probably deal with this all the time. I’m not a special case, I’m now part of a process to heal me, at least physically.
I’m not sure at what point Gwen leaves but I think we have a conversation about her needing to get back and that I’ll be fine. I’m leading this conversation hours after I’ve tried to kill myself. Honestly I can’t stand how stoic I pretend I am, it’s so stupid.
A wonderful nurse comes and tells me about herself while she is fixing up my wrist. She’s giving me a bit of a telling off if I’m honest. ‘Now why would you want to go and do that handsome boy, you’ve got plenty to live for!’
Honestly I feel like I have nothing to live for but that’s a heavy chat to have with this nurse so after she is finished I am taken to a bed in a different ward. This is my home for the next few days. Everybody around my sounds like they are dying. Am I dying? Have I damaged my organs with my overdose? It’s well into the morning of the next day and out of sheer exhaustion I can feel my eyes closing.
The tights are a bit much.
Pictured: still trying to crack a smile
My teeth feel like they are covered in grit, I’ve got an IV drip in my right arm, my wrist feels like it’s about to tear back open, my stomach feels like it has been turned inside out and left to dry and my head? It’s an absolute whirlwind. An aching, throbbing, panic fuelled tornado. That headache you get after a stressful situation? Multiply that by a thousand.
This is dread on a new level. My guard has been absolutely destroyed and for the first time I am allowing myself to be vulnerable to people and I’m so uncomfortable with it, I don’t know what to do with it. The wonderful nurse is back and she’s brought me a cup of tea.
It’s a horrible brew, it’s weird and tastes like it was made in a microwave but my mind is suddenly flooded with comfort and normality. I’m a few hours removed from the most traumatic experience of my life but here I am having a brew and a chat about the weather.
I want this cup of tea to last forever.