I hold a strawberry by its tip in summertime, and I should be enjoying it. Its juicy plumpness is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight shining through a triangular gap in my drawn curtains as I hold it close my face. I’ve taken a bite but I don’t taste its sweetness. My mouth tastes slightly bitter and stale. I reflect on my poor stomach, turned over and over again by weeks of anxiety. It could be that my brain is beginning to pick up its usual pace again: The tranquilizers my doctor prescribed me two days ago must be losing their effect. Part of me wants to go back to that doped-up world where I felt a shield between me and reality.
At least I am peacefully alone with the gentle whirr of my electric fan, and my bed, and my half-bitten strawberry. Things outside, including the brash sun, aren’t affecting me right now—I am pretending they don’t exist as a form of survival. I can’t begin to think about what I might be missing or the time I am wasting. I need to be here, right now, and relax as much as I can. That means not thinking—partially not even existing.
A few weeks ago my level of anxiety outweighed my ability to cope. I couldn’t physically carry on the way I was going. I constantly felt sick. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly, or go anywhere without my mind spinning into intense, irrational thoughts. I resorted to crying uncontrollably in bed all afternoon—it seemed my only option. I could hardly leave my bedroom. I felt I was going mad.
I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in two weeks today. Before, I couldn’t face the fact that I was a physical being, the same as everybody else, people who are able to continue in the form that evolution has crafted them in. I have two eyes, four limbs, all my internal organs, but I feel like I am missing something in my mind. Or there is an abundance of something, still unknown to me, that shouldn’t be there.
I made it to Wales in the car with the family. The idea of getting away from the stifling heat and the claustrophobia of our suburban neighbourhood was appealing. Of course, sometimes you think if you move somewhere—a significant distance away from where you think your problems live—you’ll feel completely different. But things follow you, they always do.
One bad morning I was staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. There were faint smears on the wall opposite my bed that I assumed the owner of the holiday cottage had purposefully covered up with a gaudy painting of Bermuda, a sea so far away in distance and essence from the simple Welsh sea that I could glimpse from my bedroom window that it seemed distasteful to hang it there. I thought, amongst hot tears behind my eyes, that this was a good metaphor for me. The smears were dripping out from beneath this misplaced picture, a front to cover up the darker stuff underneath that was now leaking through.
I walked to the beach with my father. A simple goal that I knew I could achieve without much anxiety. There was still a brash heat, but the blue of the sea was cooling. Dad wandered about and collected a pocketful of gold-tinged stones and told me to pick the ones I liked best. As I dug absentmindedly through the sand in front of me while trying to explain to him how much I felt I needed help, I uncovered a darker greenish stone. I decided to own that one, too. Then Dad came up with his own metaphor—the three gold pebbles and one dark were like me. For now the dark was all we could see, but the gold would be uncovered again.
After lunch, in the full heat of the day, I reclined on a beach towel on my own. It was nice to feel alone. I lay on my front, eyes to the burning sand, slipping it through my fingers, thinking of the way cliffs and rocks and stones eventually become. My mind focused on how there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches in the world put together. This I could not comprehend, but it quieted my cloudy mind. I picked up handfuls of sand again and again and let them sieve through my hands. I did not feel minuscule like a grain of sand. I didn’t feel like a giant either. I felt like nothing, like I imagine an animal or a plant feels. Nothing mattered, and even realising that nothing mattered did not matter.
Of course, it didn’t last long.
What is referred to as a heatwave in Britain might not be made such a fuss of elsewhere. The newscasters take temperatures slightly over 30 degrees Celsius (about 85° Fahrenheit) very seriously. While watching the news I lost count of how many times I was warned that the people most vulnerable to hot weather are the elderly, the young, and the sick.
Still, in this kind of British heat, everything feels like it is dripping or melting at the edges. The sweat on people’s reddish backs, the corners of houses and roads, the hot air visibly rising – all merge together in one hot claustrophobic sphere.
I am writing this at three o’clock in the morning as I can’t sleep from the heat. The sea breeze no longer makes a difference. It is our last night and a Friday (a week since my meltdown) and I can hear drunk Welsh people. Someone is playing “Don’t ’Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls. Idyllic.
I am going back home feeling better. I miss people, not things. I want to see them, I don’t want to hide. My doctor referred me to a mental health clinic, so I will potentially have a place to air my issues again, rather than sweeping them under the carpet. I thought that because I had had therapy before, I wouldn’t need it again—but things have changed and I have new and alien things to deal with now that I didn’t have to deal with then.
I’ve remembered that other people can’t cure me, but I can ask for help. Not help for a miracle recovery, but help and support in order to help myself. Asking for help wasn’t easy. I thought I should be able to cope on my own. It’s the summer before I leave home for university; I am meant to be having the carefree time of my life. But that’s not how I work. And I feel more OK with that now. ♦