When all is numb how do I continue? Numb is followed by sadness. They are bedfellows who mock and jeer. Together they support each other but rip me apart. They take each breath. Each thought. All ambition. And desire. Bringing me back to numb. Sad and numb.
The tightness grips my chest.
Choking my heart, lungs, and mind.
When will it end.
When will they leave me alone
Why don’t they learn
Push. Push. And push
Until there is nothing left
Alone engulfed in tightness I struggle to breathe crying out
To be left alone.
When I was twelve I saw Feeling So Real on Ian Dempsey’s Sunday morning music show. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was fast, electric, the people were having fun, and it was different from the world I inhabited. I fell instantly in love.
I bought the single and played it to death – much to my parents annoyance. They didn’t get it. I didn’t get it either. I was becoming a teenager and found something that was all mine.
When I heard Moby speak my heart raced. He wasn’t a dumb popstar – not that I had imagined he would be. He was educated, interested in the world, an activist, and passionate. Not only did I love his music, I had fallen in love with him.
Today whenever I hear his music it makes me smile. I feel like an innocent teenager who has found a secret to the big bad world that belongs solely to me. It reminds me of friendships that have passed – Grace – and friendships that remain strong today.
Friends come and they go. We learn from them and we learn more about ourselves through the relationship. But friendships change. We change and grow; we are not the same person aged twelve, as we are aged seventeen. So don’t be surprised if those who make up your closest circle now will not be those you rely on when you finish school.
I had a best friend. We met on our first day of school and were inseparable for many years. She was my twin – even though I was like five foot ten and she was five foot nothing. Over the years we supported and relied on each other. We had so much fun together: hanging around town; searching through second hand shops; going to the cinema; meeting up with other friends; talking about life; and sneaking into nightclubs. She was my soul mate.
One day it changed – some time around Halloween of our final year. I was out. Out of the click. On the edge of the group, no longer sure of my position. I’d always been in the centre but suddenly I was on the outskirts looking in. She was in the centre and stood there alone. Everyone surrounded her looking to her for leadership. Her leadership came and the first command was to extradite me.
I’d had it all. Friends. Fun. Foolishness. Lots of laughs. And now I had the plague. No one would speak to me. The group who had always been there, the group I belonged to with my best friend by my side were now unknown to me. They rejected me and constantly punished me.
Did I steal a boyfriend? Did I destroy one of their characters? Did I trash their families? Did I deserve this treatment? No. I didn’t deserve the character assassination or the endless digs or the brutality they put me through.
When school ended. I thought I was free. I was free from the everyday reminder that people in this world thought me worthless and worthy of being reminded of this on a regular basis. But I wasn’t free from the scars they left.
Throughout this time, I punished myself and wanted to runaway and die quietly away from prying eyes. If I could’ve asked why, I sometimes think I would’ve. It might have helped to understand what led to the treatment I endured; what had led my best friend to hate me with such venom that she happily tried to destroy me. I think about this some times but I also think: what good would it have done? Would it have caused her to stop? I think not.
Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?
Sitting outside the hospital in the car park, I knew once we got out of the van things wouldn’t be the same again.
It had been a long week that brought us to this point. By my side throughout Dave tried to prepare me for what was ahead. Having some experience of impending death he knew the shock that awaited me. Seeing someone you love and care about fade away to nothing is not an easy moment to prepare for.
Slowly we made our way towards the entrance. Opening the door, we walked in. Climbing the steps, each movement bringing us closer to the greatest shock of our lives. Unable to anticipate what was waiting, unable to imagine what I was about to behold, I moved unconsciously towards the Intensive Care Unit in St. Vincent’s Hospital.
This week was the longest week of my life. Starting on Sunday night in Galway and ending Saturday evening in Dublin. Who’d have imagined that answering the phone on Sunday would change my life forever?
It was a normal Sunday evening. We were watching rubbish television and enjoying the end of our days off together before we had to go back to the reality of the weekly rat race. At the time I was working in a factory – best described as a hole in the ground where my purpose was to hit a peddle with my foot and then hit a counter with my hand: oh the joyous fulfillment! To say I hated it would be an understatement.
The phone rang. Grace was on the other end. Delighted to hear from her, I asked how she was. She said that she was in Galway and would it be ok if she stayed with us for a few days. “Of course,” I said. It had been sometime since I’d spent quality time with Grace. The opportunity to have her in my life again was one that brought happiness and excitement.
We had been very close when I lived in Dublin. Since moving to Galway, some of my friendships had faded away. Others were still there but not as close or as intense as they once were. With Grace I always felt we would be friends no matter how present we were in each other’s lives. I remember her saying this one sunny day while eating lunch in Stephen’s Green.
Dave and I drove to town and collected Grace from Dominick Street. She wasn’t herself but I didn’t notice this: I was just so happy to see her. I wanted her to know Dave and to be part of my life in Galway. I wanted her to feel at home with us and to feel she could come and stay whenever she wanted.
That night we ate buttery toast, drank tea, and talked like old times. Only there was a difference: her concentration was fleeting. One minute she was on one topic and the next she was elsewhere. She seemed more childlike than I remembered: she was nervous and fearful and speaking about being followed and trying to escape judgment. To comfort her through the night and help her sleep calmly we allowed our youngest dog Mini to sleep with her – Mini was delighted with this job! Grace felt a connection to Mini and Mini’s presence seemed to ground her and distract her from the voices she felt haunted by.
The next day we realised that Grace wasn’t the Grace I once knew. She was still in there but had been consumed by demons. The demons of tragic experiences that scarred her beautiful soul. Demons she tried to conquer but inevitably would conquer her.
Walking along Silver Strand beach on a windy January afternoon she began to cry, asking for help she cried out, “Please stop, I’ve been through enough.” As a child she had been abused. As a teenager she had lost her brother – her best friend – in a freak accident. She was always in control of herself and aware of her past. She acknowledged what happened with her granddad but felt that she had dealt with this and that it was no longer bothering her.
One day in 2004 it started to bother her again. So much so she couldn’t function in reality. So much so she ended up in hospital drugged out of her brains – not the best treatment for someone dealing with trauma. I later learned that this hospital experience was extremely frightening and traumatic for her. She could hear people screaming and roaring throughout the night. This wasn’t the place for her. She didn’t feel the hospital was equipped to support her in the way she needed.
On the beach I was alarmed at what she was saying. Alarmed but understanding. She said that they wouldn’t let her go. She had a route to follow and she had veered off course. And now they were going to punish her. The ‘they’ she was referring to were in her head.
We spent some time walking through the breeze allowing the salty air sweep through our hair and wipe away Grace’s tears. All the time I was thinking ‘how can I help my friend?’ Hoping to find the answer on the beach, I listened to the sea and watched the wild waves hoping that an answer would come to me.
On our way home Dave and I agreed it was time to intervene. We drove to a counsellor we knew. June spent some time talking to Grace. After the session she pulled Dave and I aside and confided that Grace was psychotic and at high risk of committing suicide. She recommended that we bring Grace to hospital and have her committed immediately. Then June handed Grace back to us and let us leave.
(I haven’t forgiven June for this. I try to. But it isn’t easy. We went to her for help and she let us down.)
That evening we headed home and enjoyed a delicious meal together: Dave is a talented cook. Afterwards, he slipped out for a while to investigate the process of committing a person to the psychiatric ward of the Galway hospital.
Sitting outside in his van, he reflected on the process we were about to embark. He struggled with what we were about to do. So much so he couldn’t do it. From his van he rang the psychiatric unit and was informed that non-family members couldn’t have a person committed.
He returned home and we spoke it through. We then spoke to Grace and told her our concerns and how June had recommended she go into hospital for a while to help her rest her mind. She wouldn’t hear it. I was upset that this was happening to my friend and that I was thinking of putting her into hospital – I know Dave felt the same way. She reassured us that she would go back to Dublin and sort herself out.
Tuesday morning, on the way to work, we dropped Grace off at the bus stop. She was on her way back to Dublin.
That evening a storm hit the west coast. At Salthill the waves were massive. They rose up over the rocks and pounded down onto the main road. What a sight! It was like the sea was fighting back and reclaiming the land. An eerie panic ran through the city and all factories closed early. On our way home we drove by the sea to take in the power and beauty of the evening.
At home we pottered about as normal: dinner, soaps, tea, chat. I remembered I’d sent a text to Grace a few hours previously and had not yet received a reply. So I rang her. No answer. Then I rang again. No answer. Feeling that something wasn’t quite right, I rang her mother. I told her about Grace’s time with us and I relayed my concerns. Her mother tried to reassure me that everything would be fine and that Grace had behaved like this with other friends recently. I accepted her comfort but still felt unsettled – maybe it was the weather but something seemed amiss.
Two o’clock that morning my phone rang. “What did she take? What did she take?”
“What? Who is this?” I said half asleep.
“It’s Brid. They are trying to get Grace to wake up. They need to know what she took. Do you know what she took?”
“No. Maybe. She said she’d been collecting pills for some time. Paracetamol. I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
That night Grace was taken to hospital. After my conversation with her mother, Joan had tried to contact Grace but unfortunately failed. She then rang Grace’s flat mate Brid. When Brid returned from work Grace was in bed. On Joan’s prompt she checked her and found that she wasn’t asleep. She rang for an ambulance. Joan and Grace’s dad then made their way from Limerick to Dublin.
The days that followed were a blur. She was awake. Everything was going to be fine. Everyone was relieved. Life was good again.
Then everything changed. Kidney and liver transplant became the focus. She wouldn’t survive without a transplant. Very quickly things had gone from possible recovery to transplants. (Transplant at twenty-five years of age. A transplant needed as soon as possible or else.)
Then the phone rang. A tearful man said, “You need to come to Dublin.” I listened but didn’t want to hear. Between the lines he was saying: ‘You need to come and say goodbye.’ When he said it again and again, I let go of the fear and embraced the necessity of the situation. It had been some week and I needed to be there, for her, for me, for the time we spent together, for the relationship we had, and for whatever other many reasons that were running through my mind.
Dave drove. It took three hours. I’d made a similar journey once before: my Granddad died in December 2002. I remember going home knowing that I was going home to say goodbye to him. It was a difficult journey but I knew it was time. He had struggled with cancer for some time. The cancer was brutal and had slowly destroyed him. He had had a great life filled with love, golf, and socialising. Although it was sad and I still miss him today it was time, he couldn’t fight the cancer any longer.
Driving back for Grace, a part of me believed that unlike my Granddad Grace would make a miraculous recovery. I knew from her father’s urgency in beckoning me to Dublin that things were bad but I still held hope in my heart that God or whoever would sort this mess out and give my Grace another chance at life.
Each signpost indicated Dublin was getting closer and closer. Dave held my hand, squeezing it in reassurance, no matter what we were facing we were facing it together.
Arriving at ICU we stood together. The doctor said only one at a time could enter. I went in alone. I washed my hands and put the cover over my clothes and allowed myself to be guided through the unit. I tried not to look at the people in the ward but it was impossible. Each bed housed an elderly person who was near the end of life. The sense of death surrounded me and as I moved closer and closer to Grace I began to feel the false hope and confidence, which had brought me to this point, disappear.
At the end of the unit, alone, stood Grace’s bed. Wires and machines were hooked up to the bed. She wasn’t like she’d been at the start of the week. Now she was punctured with tubes and apparatuses to keep her alive. Her parents were by her side taking in their daughter’s every moment. I stood at her bed and tried to take it all in. I tried to see my friend; the friend who had brought so much fun and love to my life. I tried to see the nights we had danced like fools at The Palace Nightclub; the nights we’d spent laughing through our work shift at The Olympia; the chats about boys who weren’t worthy of our time; and the comfort, reassurance, and support we had given each other over the years. It wasn’t easy. What lay before me was a shell of that girl. It was her but not the real true Grace anymore. I quietly prayed hoping that what was before me would change and she would be revived to the vibrant, loving, outgoing girl I knew her to be.
After a few moments feeling unsteady I made my way back to Dave. Outside ICU on the corridor of the hospital I felt myself fall into Dave’s arms. I cried and cried. Not knowing what to do we started to walk down the stairs. In the foyer we met Grace’s brother. Together we sat and had some tea. We talked about Grace and what might happen. Grace’s brother disclosed that Grace had taken hundreds of pills. She had begun the process long before she landed in Galway. She had begun a process of slowly chipping away at her liver so that when she decided to take the overdose there would be no coming back.
Shock hit hard. Sugar was needed to prevent Dave and me from fainting. We took in the news. The shock of how deeply in pain she must have been to go to such lengths was beyond overwhelming.
Leaving the hospital my phone rang again. The moment had come and Grace had passed. I was distraught but grateful. I was grateful to her for allowing me the chance to say goodbye.
There were a slew of emotions to follow but in that moment there was some peace.
(anger, confusion, loss, pain both emotional and physical, guilt, questions, regret, a desire to go back and change the events, force her into hospital in Galway, not let her leave us that morning…)
Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Describe the ghosts that live in this house: Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic
The whistle from the wind echoed through the house. I stood waiting for something to happen. But nothing did.
I continued to gather my belongings knowing that tonight I would leave this house forever. Leaning across the dining table I felt a breath on my neck. ‘Don’t push me’, I thought. The time had come to move on and no one, neither living nor dead, was going to hold me back.
Upstairs in the wardrobe neatly organised were my clothes. I opened my suitcase and started to pack them in. This time the breath brushed over my face. Twelve years we’d spent together in that house. Twelve happy years. But the good times ended with a bang. He wasn’t who I believed him to be. He was a ghost of the man I once knew. And now I had my chance to break free. Nothing was going to stop me.
Piling my clothes into my case and forcing it closed felt empowering: I was almost finished with this place. All that was left to do was to drag the heavy case down the stairs and out the door; lock up behind me; and throw the key into the letter box.
But he had different plans.
Each step felt like a mountain. Our time together had become impossible. Endless watching, criticising, scrutinising, undermining, and judgements.
Like I said it hadn’t always been that way. It was glorious until the switch flipped.
Within these four walls I had it all and watched it disappear. Moving away with each step was the sweetest victory I’d tasted in some time. But each step became harder and harder. The judgement ringing in my ears. The eagle eyes watching from every corner. The degrading digs hammering home my inadequacies. Who would I be without this being on my shoulder? Can I survive away from this place? Who will I be if I don’t second guess my every thought, my every word, my every move?
The door getting closer and my mind retreating back into the familiar, I stopped. It was all encompassing. I fell to the ground and began to weep. The breath surrounding me in victory.
Here it begins,
No more work and no more pressure for ten days. When did it all start? This is difficult to answer because if I look critically – I mean really analyse myself – it started long before this episode took hold. For now I will look at where I’m at today.
My job is great. I work with great people and I have an opportunity to work with young people. I get to help young people achieve their potential. What a privileged position I’m in. They look to me for guidance and I do my best to help in whatever way I can. I’m not the best but I try my best. I try to have fun and I hope they have fun learning with me. I know we have ups and downs moving through the learning process but the ups outweigh the downs. Only this time I’ve hit the down all by myself. I can see those around me rising and I am sinking, sinking, sinking, into the unknown.
I woke up two weeks ago and was a sobbing mess. I couldn’t concentrate and I just didn’t feel all there/ or all here. My head was all over the place. My heart felt both distant and pounding. My chest was overwhelmed with tightness. My being felt challenged. I felt like I was gripping onto reality and holding on for my life. I found myself in work overwhelmed and crying my eyes out.
Silly. Juvenile. Pathetic. Embarrassing. Inadequate.
Thankfully two colleagues took me in hand and helped me back to earth. Unfortunately this was only a bandaid and wouldn’t solve the bigger fall that was impending.
A week later it came. No air. No words. Just tears. Looking for escape I hid away. In the arms of a school counsellor I received some support – unfortunately it’s now made me cautious of her. What’s with some psychology types thinking they know you without knowing you – I’m a psy type and I don’t play that game.
Now I have stopped. I’m taking Seroplex and sleeping tablets so I can sleep through the night. I’m terrified to go back out into the big bad world by myself. Today, I feel I would happily never step foot into a classroom again.
Who knows where this GAD and Panic episode will lead…