Tales from the Psych Ward - Part 1
A few Thursdays ago, I tried to kill myself.
To be fair, I wasn’t seeing clearly. 2020 actually seemed to be starting out really well for me. I’m usually grovelling and miserable during the grey months, but this was turning out to be my most mellow winter in living memory. Blithely navigating a heavy workload, a new healthy diet, weight training and a full social calendar, I couldn’t understand my colleagues’ seasonal blues. Even my birthday, usually a week-long self-flagellation event, passed without incident. New year, new me!
“I hate to say this, but you need to be prepared for when you come down from this,” Alessandra, a close friend of mine, warned me as I sashayed through January and jived through Feb. “Because you will. I’ve seen it, and it’s not nice. I don’t want to see you hurt again.”
But I didn’t believe her, because I was fine. I had had my customary triannual breakdown at Christmas and now I was at the start of a brand new cycle, looping the loop like a T-shirt in the washing machine. The reset button had been hit, and I had nothing to worry about until the rollercoaster started its descent.
And when it did:
Never one to do things by halves, I “chose” to have a mental breakdown during a global pandemic.
I had been working from home for three weeks - “home” being my 19 square metre apartment in the commuter suburbs of northern Frankfurt. Every day, bleary-eyed (the early bird snaps up the available Trados licence), I took the two steps from my bed to my desk, logged onto the intranet and checked the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in the federal state of Hesse.
At first the progression was slow - two more every day. Then ten. There was no hand sanitiser left in the whole of Frankfurt. Twelve. Twenty-something. People in the supermarket started stockpiling whole cardboard boxes of milk cartons. A hundred more overnight. The first deaths. Everyone in the neighbourhood took their mandated lunch break walk alongside the railway tracks.
An exponential rise, now: creeping over the thousand threshold. I begged my father not to go on a long-planned trip to London and got terrified when my mother in Wales caught a cold. My flat had never been cleaner, nor my shelves better organised, because there was nothing else to do. Germany was in lockdown. People looked at me, the half-Asian, askance in the street, walking in single file to avoid crossing my path.
Two thousand five hundred. I Skyped all my friends and attended virtual writing sessions, dance classes, midnight bedclothed live-streams of bands playing in sunlit American afternoons. A whisker under three thousand. Hesse’s State Minister of Finance committed suicide. I bought and ate endless soup, pasta, crackers. My thoughts turned dark every night at the setting of the sun.
Three thousand. I painted and repainted my nails and wore dramatic gothic eyeliner and party clothes every day for absolutely no reason. I took steadily more risque pictures of myself and posted them on Instagram for the approval of strangers. I worked out until my muscles screamed. When I could barely move any more, I lit six candles, curled up and wept in the shower cubicle.
Thursday 2nd April. 4,178 cases and counting. I dozed through my days and danced like a lunatic at midnight. I sent emails from my bed and did two jigsaws in the wee hours of the morning. I went out specifically to purchase a lethal amount of alcohol. (For context, I don’t drink.) I even took my passport in case I got carded. At the entrance of LIDL, a masked man handed me a sanitised trolley. I walked down aisles of alien bottles and picked one from here, one from there, looking for that magic combination of cheapness and palatability. All the while my brain was whispering yeah, I dare you, I dare you. The evening sun was too bright and my skin prickled; I wondered if passersby could see my imminent death written all over me.
I got home, poured lurid alcohol over ice and set up the Tub of Mourning with candles, my “Cry it out” playlist, my neatly arranged Tupperware of assorted medications and a variety of implements with which to slice open my skin.
There in the flickering dark, I took a long look at the world and found it lacking.
I had long known that I was going to end my own life one day. It was a comforting and tacit truth, the one constant that kept me going, my north star.
Now seemed as good a time as any, given the circumstances.
Also, I hated, loathed, despised myself. I could no longer stand to be in my own body, so I set out to destroy it. I drank and cut myself and popped pills until the soles of my feet went tingly. Was that a bad thing? I didn’t know. My knees no longer belonged to me. The whole thing felt hilarious on some other crazily tilting plane, and when the planes intersected I laughed at how absurd it was, how absurd I was. Was I not just playacting, even now? How the hell had it got to this?
I have the good kind of friends, friends like Daisy, who'll check up on you and call you to interrupt your suicide attempt, and friends like Alessandra, who’ll later tease you about your choice of lethal cocktail. You seriously tried to kill yourself on alcopops and eggnog?
Better still, I half-laugh, half-sob in my hospital bed. It was gingerbread flavour. Leftover stock from Christmas!
(I have to laugh, else I’d cry and cry and cry...)