We have been asked to publish this piece on this blog. The writer does not want to be identified. She gives permission for the piece to be quoted from, or reproduced in its entirety, if that feels useful to the reader. She has asked us to say that one of her reasons for choosing to publish this, is her response to some of the comments she has read about the death of Robin Williams.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
‘A Personal Account of Despair
I am describing a place familiar to me as long as I remember. I go here sometimes. Sometimes I get stuck here. I try to tell myself I do not always feel like this. I try to keep hold of that thread. It does not feel like enough. It is all I have to keep from sliding into the void.
In this place, I feel alone, in the middle of a vast, dark plain, with a black sky above me. A brutal, cold, unloving place. The atmosphere is heavy and oppressive. A place of utter hopelessness and despair, of intense fear and shame, of unbearable grief, of powerless anger and unmet longing. These feelings are not some of the colours on my palette – they are the whole palette. I am saturated with them – if you wring me out, I will bleed black and cry black. These feelings are not quiet or still. They writhe and move like a basket of snakes. They cut like knives. They dress themselves in horrible thoughts, and leer over me, and tear me. I twist and turn but cannot escape.
In my head and in my blood, I hear: ‘Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself, there is no hope and no-one can love you, it will never get better, everything else is an illusion, kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself, then you will stop hurting.’ When my weather is darkest, these voices speak ceaselessly, except when I sleep. I want to obey them.
When I am here, I cannot distract myself or comfort myself. I cannot encounter my pain in ways that feel helpful. Sometimes I can sleep, although waking is dreadful.
I long for human connection, to feel seen and loved. But it is hard for me to allow anyone near me in this place. If you come right up and sit down next to me, I may not notice you. If I do notice you, I will fear you. And you may fear me – I’m not easy to be around when I’m in this place. I will push you away and hide from you. Too many times, I have seen eyes close down, turn away, fear, judge, objectify. I expect this. I invite it.
My history teaches me to fear being seen. I am a human being in pain. I have reasons for how I feel. My pain was born from experience. Loss of those I deeply loved, inability to prevent that happening, violence, loss of my ability to say ‘no’, invasion and violation of my body, and the bodies of those I loved. Anguish. Betrayal. Shame.
I do not ‘suffer from depression’. I am not ‘bipolar’. I do not have ‘mental health issues’ or a ‘mental illness’. I do not have a disorder or a chemical imbalance. There is no pill for how I feel, or for what happened to me. These are not helpful responses, and they are not accurate to reality.
I am a human being, experiencing the pain that goes with being a human being. I have feelings – however intense and long-lasting and hard to bear – not a medical condition.
I do not want to see you apply those labels to me, or tell an ‘expert’ so they can do that. I do not want to be locked up for my own good, or have my choices taken away again. I am the only expert on me. None of that helps, it only makes the trauma deeper. So I hide, in order to protect myself. But in my hiding, I am alone.
I long for someone who will allow me to be myself and feel what I feel, and who will still be there. Quietly and gently. Who will be alongside, not as expert or to solve the problem that is me, but rather as one human being with another, in a dark landscape full of writhing snakes, with no hope. Who will love me there.
I know that is a lot to ask.’