A Letter to a Therapist
Editor's note: Trigger warnings for self-harm, suicide, depression and anxiety. Thank you, Annie for your courage in sharing your story.
I am not a survivor. I’m not a survivor because I simply haven’t survived.
I’m not sure if I can call this a story; stories are supposed to have endings, right? Well this one doesn’t. Maybe you’re reading this 75 years after my death and wondering who I am exactly. Perhaps, then I should call this a memoir? Or maybe this will end up not as a story or memoir? Maybe I’ll lose my torturous battle and this will become my note. Either way, here it is.
I lost my mum to drug addiction. She didn’t die, I didn’t lose her in that way, but at the age of four when I and my little brother were taken to live with my nan and dad, I lost her. I have her back in my life now; it hasn’t been long but we do have a pretty good relationship. I’m currently living with my boyfriend and his mum because a build-up of violent episodes and arguments with my nan and dad became unbearable, and I had to leave. Things are starting to work out there; I’m going to go home soon. But with my dad, our relationship has never been right. When I was little, I had blurred memories of being in flats with my dad and his strange friends while they smoked god-knows-what. I remember being at home and walking into my dad’s bedroom, he sat there holding burnt tin foil and the room was smoky. His croaky voice would say “go away, I’ll be with you in a minute”. As I got older and started to understand things more, I realized that, in a way, I also lost him to drug addiction.
I have few memories of living with my mum in her flat in Gravesend. I was only small, my brother was tiny, but I remember. At least, I think I do. I remember the scary-shaped tree that resembled a monster outside of my bedroom window, and now I can’t hear the “Heartbeat” opening theme song without being haunted by the images of that tree. Weird, I know.
I remember a man -a strange man, taking my brother’s toy from him and walking out of the room, leaving him crying in his cot in the darkness of the bedroom while I was completely unable to help him. When we moved in with my nan and dad, my brother used to spend his nights in my bed. I protected him. I mothered him because I knew he was afraid of the dark. Little did he know, so was I. I had to be brave though; I was the older sister, the one that could protect him from the monsters and faces in the shadows.
I grew up and accepted my life without a mum. Eventually, I also accepted a life without any friends because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t any.
My grandad was diagnosed with dementia in 2006, and my nan and dad would constantly argue because dad would go out for hours and hours, and not come home until early the next morning. My dad and I, our relationship, it was… well, it wasn’t good. We argued all the time, we shouted and we screamed. Sometimes it would get violent. I guess the arguing, shouting and bullying became too much for me because when I turned 13, things started to get really bad.
The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m polite -too polite. Polite beyond the realms of what counts as “normal” because the last time I was here, I lied to you about the severity of my condition out of complete fear of being judged and disbelieved. I am not capable of saying all this out loud without messing up and confusing my own words even though I know, clearly, what to say. Yes, you’re a professional.
I’ve spent my life being called “freak”, “weird”, “mental”, a “liar”, “stupid”, “drama queen”, “exaggerator of the highest levels”; by people, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and even my own family. When I started self-harming, my school told my nan and dad. After finding out, my nan told me I was stupid while my dad said “you could at least have done it properly.” I’ve been judged and disbelieved to the point where I have made it a habit to feel stupid for feeling the way I do, and foolish for thinking the way I think.
I see monsters and people in shadows. Monsters and people that hide and wait for me to close my eyes and fall asleep so they can come and get me. Some nights I force myself to stay awake because I know there’s somebody waiting for me to let my guard down. Outside the windows, outside my bedroom door, in the darkest corner of my room, around me. Constantly around me. At night or during the day, no matter what I’m doing or where I am, wherever I can’t see there is somebody waiting to jump out on me. I feel them watching me and getting close to me. They talk about me so I can’t hear what they’re saying.
Teachers talking to other teachers, teachers talking to other students, friends talking to friends, complete strangers on the street. They’re all watching me, talking about me, and when I turn to look at them, they’ve moved their heads so that they’re not looking at me anymore. I can see in people’s eyes, their judgements. Their mouths say nice things to me, but I can see in their eyes that they’re thinking negatively about me. I just know it. People look at me, even for a second, and I know they’re thinking about me. They think I’m a freak. They think I’m mental. They don’t know me, but I know that they’re thinking about me, walking away and talking about me, laughing at me and going home to talk about me even more. I must be with my back to a wall. I must be able to see doors and windows and everybody in that room. I must know that nobody can be where I can’t see them. If I’m ever in a situation where I can’t make those things happen, like in classrooms and shops, I must check behind me all the time to make sure nobody is too close to me. That security guard in the shop, the group of people in the street, the adults walking towards me; they’re coming for me. I must leave the shop, cross the street, avoid them at all costs because I know if I get too close, they’ll get me.
I can’t get on buses anymore. I know that the bus driver thinks I’m an idiot because I know I’ve probably said the wrong thing or sat in the wrong place. He knows I don’t know where I’m getting off because it’s a new route. I don’t know how he knows it but he does. So do the passengers -they all know, they all watch me, and they all stare. Always staring.
I can’t walk into the doctor’s because when the staff and other patients stare at me, I know what they’re thinking. They’re wondering, what’s wrong with me? They’re picking me apart, bit-by-bit. I can feel it in my blood; I can feel them staring and thinking. The receptionists are whispering, laughing because they know something’s not right. They think I’m a freak.
I stopped coping at work as well. My boss would talk about me to other staff members. They’d all laugh at the back of the shop while I was at the front -I know it was about me. Customers whispered when I had my back turned. I knew I did something wrong but I couldn’t work out what it was. Was I too slow? Had I forgotten something? Maybe I was being rude? Why were they always staring at me? The phone would ring and automatically, without a doubt, I thought it was a customer complaining about me. My boss looked at me for a split second and I knew she was planning to fire me. Then came the day when she finally did, and everything was confirmed. Those stares, the laughs, the whispers, all of what I thought was right, and now I had no job. Did I do something terrible? Would it affect my chances of getting other jobs? What would I do for money? I’ll never be able to get a job again. This is it. I’ve failed.
Rob (my current boyfriend) and his mum are upstairs talking about my problems and how I’m a joke. I can hear them laughing. Rob comes back to his room acting as if nothing happened, just like my nan and dad when I’m back home. They talk about me and laugh at me, then act as though nothing happened. But I see through them. I see through their lies and masks. I can’t face the world anymore because everyone seems to know about me. What am I going to do? I’m temporarily living with Rob because I can’t handle being at home, I have no job and I can’t afford to live. The little savings I had from my job are gone, and my nan barely provides enough money for me to live. I can’t ask for more. I hate taking it from her because I know she doesn’t want me to have it since I’m an inconvenience. I need a job but finding one means applying, saying the right things, getting an interview, leaving the house with everybody watching me. The pressure builds to the point where I’m sweaty, shaky and can’t string three words together because god knows I’ll mess up and say something stupid, or behave strange like the freak and weirdo I am. On top of that, I know, for a fact, that everyone I pass on the street will see the failure on my face, and they’ll know why because everyone seems to know. I don’t know why they know but they do, I just know it.
Rob says he loves me. He tries to convince me he does, but I know he doesn’t. I know that deep down, he’s in denial and eventually, he’ll realize it. I’m prepared for when it happens. In fact, I’m prepared for everything. I feel it in my soul that if I leave the comforts of a familiar four walls, something will go wrong and that something will be my fault. Even in those four walls, something will happen, something bad. Somehow, it’ll be my fault but these four walls are the best I’ve got because I can’t go anywhere else. I’m trapped.
The Temporary Acceptance
I’m not sad, I’m just lonely. I’ve never had a friend in the world since I was a child and that’s my fault. It’s just the way I am. I don’t understand why I can’t be like other girls, normal and able to make real friends? There’s something wrong with me. I know I’m not okay. I was a freak, a weirdo. That’s why nobody wants to know me. When the occasional person does come along and tries to convince me that they are my real friend, I just push them away because I know that eventually, they’ll see me for what I really am. They’ll be fed up with me and hate me to the point where they leave, so I might as well speed up the process. Now, I’ve reached a point where I don’t care. I’ve stopped creating emotional ties to people. I no longer feel the desire for company.
With family, the connection is there, that tie that all families have towards one another, but I wouldn’t call it love. It’s more of an obligation to have a connection. With Rob, it’s the same. I’m not going to leave him because he’s stubborn. I’m just going to let him slowly realize that I was right about his denial. I don’t have the mental capacity to feel attached towards people. It’s pretty much the same with other things in my life; I don’t particularly like music, I don’t read, and I can’t sit through films anymore. Things that once filled me with this warm, excited sensation no longer have much of an effect on me.
I used to cry a lot, but things don’t affect me that heavily anymore. Instead of crying, I just accept things. I don’t get upset, I just accept it. It’s just another weight to be added to that heaviness that keeps me sinking lower and lower into a dark silent pit of nothingness. People at college used to tell me their problems because I was a person they could confide in. Eventually, I found myself telling them that I don’t care and the truth is, I don’t. Not anymore. What’s the point? Being angry and sad over things is pointless. Having those feelings inside you is draining. Others don’t know it yet, but they will learn the hard way. I’ve got rid of my anger and sadness. Instead of being part of that whirlwind of emotions we all have inside us, my anger and sadness follow me around -Him, The Shadow.
My shadow is a male. He has a voice, but he doesn’t have a face. I don’t know exactly when he turned up but he’s been with me ever since; behind me or holding onto the tops of my arms. I can’t feel him like you feel a normal person, but I can feel the pressure of his presence on my back and my arms, wherever he holds me. He goes wherever I go like he’s latched onto me and doesn’t have a choice.
I don’t see him often, but his voice is always with me and when he does appear, it’s just before I get extremely angry. He’ll stay with me until I’m calm again. It’s hard to explain what he looks like. He’s like a tall, blurry, shadowy, black, smoky mass. I can’t see him unless I’m looking in a mirror because he’s behind me but his voice is always there to keep me safe. He tells me if the strangers in the street are looking at me and talking about me. He makes me aware if something’s not right. He informs me of others’ real intentions. Sometimes I feel very comforted by him because I know that I have the advantage that other people in this world don’t have: I can see through people’s masks and their lies. People are bad, and they’re out to get me. He tells me this so that I’m safe. If I know what their real intentions are, I can stop them from hurting me. I can end their bad intentions before they act on them.
But then that’s when my shadow gets mean. I can be talking to somebody normally and suddenly, he’ll whisper to me, telling me I can’t forget that they’re out to get me and they’ll want to hurt me. That’s when he tells me to hurt them first. Sometimes he’ll advise me to pick up the knife in the kitchen and kill the person before they try and hurt me. He tells me to “shut them up” if they are annoying. It can happen with loud noises and quiet noises. If there’s tapping on a table, he’ll be there. The second I feel agitated he’s there telling me to stop them. Sometimes I tell him no but he keeps saying it as though I haven’t retaliated. At times it’s easy for me to ignore him and not act on what he’s telling me. Other times, it’s as if he’s controlling me like a puppet.
One night, at Rob’s house, I woke up in the middle of the night and my shadow was telling me to kill Rob. He was telling me that Rob doesn’t love me and that he’s planning something against me, something big and scary. I told him I didn’t want to but it was like I had no control over my own body. I remember getting the knife from the kitchen, then Rob taking the knife from my hand and taking me back to bed. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I knew in that moment I was going to. I’m not quite sure what stopped me from doing it but I’m scared that one day I won’t be able to stop him from making me do the things I don’t want to. In moments like these, I don’t want to stop him. I only have thoughts of stopping him after it’s already happened. What happens during that whole episode is unclear, no matter how hard I try to remember.
At school when I was 13, I remember this girl constantly poking my shoulder. I don’t remember being bothered by it but I pushed her against a glass divider and shouted I was going to kill her. I elbowed a teacher in her ribs when she tried to restrain me, and was hitting the girl over and over again. I had no reason to but my shadow was there telling me I had to. I wanted to kill her like he told me to, but something stopped me before I did.
It’s happened at home as well. My dad and I were arguing over something petty, and I remember going after him and punching him. I remember hitting my nan, although I’m not quite sure why. Now that I think about it, I never wanted to do any of those things. However, in the moment, I did.
He’s been there. During each moment, he was there telling me to do the things I did, controlling me like his puppet. It’s scary because sometimes I don’t think I would be able to stop myself from doing what he tells me. I trust him and something compels me to do what he says.
At college, I began having the same episodes. One minute, I’d be completely fine, and just like that, everything around me would slow down and I’d start hearing everything a lot clearer. I’d become aware of him again, holding me. I always feel him behind me, and I would hold my ears and shout at him to go away. People used to think I was getting upset but I was just trying to get my shadow to hear me even though he acted like he couldn’t. I know he’s talking about people and their intentions. I don’t know why he started doing it, and sometimes it is scary but he protects me. Sometimes he tells me that everything I feel is my fault because I’ve done something wrong to the world and that’s why the it’s out to get me. He never tells me what I’ve done, and whenever I ask he ignores me. If I get angry at myself, he will tell me to hurt myself the way I hurt others when they make me angry. I do what he says without thinking about it but I get angry with myself for letting him win. I’ll be slashing my arm with the unscrewed blade from a pencil sharpener and I can’t stop because I’m angry with myself for letting myself get like this.
I want it to be over. Sometimes I think I could kill myself before others try to kill me. By then, my shadow will stop talking to me and I won’t be able to see him anymore. I can finally calm down, but I also know he hasn’t left because I still feel him.
My shadow isn’t the only voice I hear. There are others -some male and some female. I don’t know who they are but they’re there. They also tell me I’ve done something wrong and that bad things happen because of my actions.
They are in me, in my mind, waiting for me to give them power to control my mind and that scares me. I try to get them out. I try to cut them out of my body and hope that they pour out with my blood, out from my soul and my mind. With them, I hope that the voices also leave. I cut because I’m angry. I’m angry with the world and with myself but I’d much rather hurt myself than other people. I also cut because I need release from the demons that taunt me.
I realize that it’s my fault they’re there inside of me in the first place because I let them in. The voices, the Shadow Man -they are all me. He is me. He is my anger and my sadness. For some reason they are now separate entities that haunt me but also protect me. It sounds complicated but to it makes sense to me. When I’m rational and calm, they are just dull noises in my mind and I can think clearly. I can take back control of my thoughts and feelings, and suddenly, I can see them for what they really are. I can see the world for what it really is: people are not out to get me. Those people were never staring at me, never laughing at me, never getting too close to jump at me. I do love, and I do care.
In these clear moments, I also realize that the monsters waiting in the darkest shadows of my bedroom are simply shapes, nothing more. But in those terrifying moments, in the darkness, it feels real. When they seem real, they become more powerful and dominant in my head. I am scared that one day, they will take over and I will lose every sense of control that I have left in myself. Another reason why I cut: the pain I feel, that burning stinging sensation, it’s a pain that only I can control, not them. That pain is what makes me real and helps me feel powerful. I know they’re smothering my heart, my mind and my soul in a suffocating darkness, and I can feel myself becoming weaker, which scares me. I am not a survivor. I’m not a survivor because I simply haven’t survived. I’m living with this battle every day. I wake up and go to sleep with it. It’s not over, not yet.
This illness was my beginning, the one thing in my life that gave me strength and guided me to my path. But this illness could also be my end. I’m not going to be naïve about it, and neither should you.
I could end up so tortured, that my only way out is to end my fight. But for now, in this exact moment, I’m fighting and I’m living every day, through this battle. So are you, whether you realize it or not. In this moment, you’re reading this. You are living and breathing through a battle that you may not even realize you are fighting. In this moment, we’re okay.
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