And then it happened, and her demons won. Just like that and without a fair warning. They didn’t play fair. For fifteen months she had fought them off, and now she had lost the battle with her self-harming demons. Just two small cuts. Usually, she only made one deep incision. But cutting along existing scars proved challenging. And fascinating. The way the skin stretched without breaking. The way she realised that the pain from cutting her skin stopped the moment it began to bleed.
But something wasn’t right. Something was not like she remembered it. She didn’t feel the usual calm settle down over her like a relaxing fog. This time, she stayed agitated. Unsettled. Two cuts. Very small, yet there. They hadn’t opened the valve that allowed her skin to expand and give her more room to breathe. Not this time. This time, the cuts were a testimony to her failure as an adult. She was broken beyond repair. They were affirming her failure. Affirming that she was just a freak. Nothing more.
She grew restless. She was determined to punish herself and her body for all the things that weren’t right – mostly her mind.
Transfixed, she watched the drops of blood sliding down her wrist. Had it ever bled this much? Had she cut too deep? Was she done, or was there more cutting to do to ease her troubled soul? She started shaking violently. She cleaned the box cutter in a hurry, before returning it to its place on the shelf. She couldn’t stand its sight anymore.
She ran her arm under the sink and still reeling, she lit a cigarette. She claimed to be a non-smoker but once in a while; she liked the taste of her Luckies. This time, it was different – not calming her nerves, and still shaking all over, she felt so nauseous from the smoke that she put the cigarette out.
She considered drinking a shot of vodka, but she had promised to herself to be abstinent from alcohol and carbohydrates for at least two weeks. She had no intention of breaking that vow. Even under these circumstances. Or was it despite them? She had to stick to something.
But what was she supposed to do? All alone. She called her best friend, but she was busy. It was the usual scenario: she needed someone, but the world was too busy to care. She never pretended to be the centre of the universe, but she gave all the time, and when she needed a shoulder, some support, nobody was there.
On a whim, she messaged her ex-affair. It would have been their first anniversary. Did he know? He didn’t, but it was okay. The moment she heard his voice, she had to swallow down a wave of tears. She hadn’t believed that he would pick up the phone, but he had. He had always been a good listener. And even now, after months of silence between them, he did the same – he listened. Giving gentle advice, never judging. He held his narcissistic self under control while she confessed and confided in him what she had never confessed or admitted to anyone. She had harmed herself. Now she felt ashamed and exhausted. The tension hadn’t left. But his voice was reassuring, comforting. She never wanted to show him his weaknesses, but now she had done it anyway. He knew. She was naked, soul-stripped in front of him. He stirred the conversation in a different direction. And she let him, fully aware that he was asking for something in return. Nothing was for free.
On a path to self-destruction phone sex with him was just another step towards her final demise. Was she his prostitute? For him, she was. She was allowed to unload her emotional crap as long as she paid her debts with her body. She hated herself either way. This didn’t change a thing. And yet, she felt proud when she heard his moans and his erratic breathing. She didn’t feel dirty or ashamed that he had made her cum twice too. It was just words. A fantasy. Orders she bs followed. But sometimes, it was more. It had released the rest of the tension that had kept her on edge for so long, and when he told her so, knowing exactly how she felt, she had laughed out loud — a genuine s.
The earlier thoughts were forgotten. Not really forgotten, just pushed aside. She was still shaking all over. But there had been someone who had caught her, and it meant a lot to her. On a day, when she had hinted so many times, in front of so many people about all the things that weren’t right, and nobody asked if she was okay or needed help; on a day when she felt invisible and unseen, one person had seen her. And he had loved her. For how long it would last didn’t matter. He had been there when she had needed him. And it had indeed changed her day. Her demons were still hiding in the shadows. Bloodhounds. She wasn’t sure if she could keep them at bay, for she would try — fifteen months or longer.
I shared this piece of fiction because I stumbled across it today, and I liked that comment so much. The music I had added was Help Me by Maximilian Hecker
Shelly sat on her bed, the laptop heating her thighs and knees. Things had changed; she had. Months ago, it was easy just to let every thought spill onto her screen, but now, it was a struggle even to write a word. She defended her silence with writer’s block; or the fact that she worked so much. It had never bothered her before. She started censoring herself and her writing when she noticed the traffic on her blog was coming consistently. Readers or viewers came by daily to see if she had shared something. Where they waiting for her to share some more of her gruesome inner life? Where they waiting in the shadows, silently judging, ready to twist her words in real life? She hated the thought that people she knew read her words. She wasn’t embarrassed, she was just so naked on her blog, and she was afraid that her fragile mind would destroy the image of herself that she tried to hold upright. She tried to appear humorous and composed, relaxed and focused. But she wasn’t. Inside she was always struggling, wondering what she should have done differently; what she should have said instead of what she said; trying to remember everything so that she could make life easier for everyone who had to endure her presence.
Shelly had taken all her courage to tell her colleagues at work that she is mentally ill – depression. But she was not sad enough, not tired enough, not silent enough, not lethargic enough. She was functional. They didn’t see that she cried every day in her car on her way to work. They didn’t see how draining work was for her. They didn’t see that every little accomplishment came with a mountain of doubts and crippling thoughts.
Shelly had a lot to say, but nothing was worthy of her readers. She checked the stats and updated blogs. Nothing was inspiring, yet everything she read was inspiring. People had things to say and to share with the world. She had once been like that. Once, before her mind had decided to tell her lies again. Lies, all lies. And not even music was helping anymore.
Shelly closed the lid of her laptop and listened as the heater went silent. It was time to catch some sleep. Tomorrow, people who look at here again and wonder why she made such a fuss about depression when she didn’t look depressed. She was even smiling. But every smile came with a price. Frail. She was fragile, and if she weren’t careful, she would break apart.
Shelly turned to her side and pulled the blanket up over her head. It was comforting to be hidden from the world, and she slipped into a colourless dream.
2:45 am. I can’t sleep. I woke up from a dream – not a nightmare, but unsettling too. I keep trying to recall my dream, but it is gone – lost in the corners of my mind. I just know that I was wrong about something. I did the worst one can do when unable to sleep; I took my phone and checked notifications. I was on Twitter and on a whim, I unfollowed a couple of accounts, the one of my former favourite band too – turns out they are a bunch of pretentious bellends. It took me almost 20 years to see it. I still appreciate their music; it was the soundtrack of my life, and yet… I really don’t like the people they became. Or is it me?
Am I drifting away from the person I used to be? I feel empty and overflowing. Sad and happy. Tired and wide awake.
How did that happen? When did everything change?
In a little more than 2 hours my alarm will go off, and I need to go to work. Early shift. I like that – if only it started later, lol.
Birds are beginning to chirp outside (the window is open); my husband is snoring next to me, and my mind is thinking too loud.
I sit, and I wait. Sitting and waiting. And I hope that no one will ask what I am waiting for. I would answer “Life”, and they would quote John Lennon “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. And they wouldn’t even know that it’s not a simple quote but that this sentence is a line of lyrics from a song he wrote for his beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy Julian. And I would bite my tongue because information like that is plenty in my brain. It’s just – no one cares about it. And that’s why I keep sitting and waiting. For life to happen. And to understand it. But that is not entirely true. Because from my place, I have a nice view. I observe and analyse, and I keep to myself. The things I know, are not the things I need to share. But on the other hand, all the half-truths and snippets of misinformation I know, are not the ones others want to hear. It’s a circle. And if I don’t find the right corner to get off, I will stumble, and my clumsy attempt to catch myself will end with me lying face down enduring the spiral, the slipstream that brought this upon me. Upwards or downwards? Which way does it go? Maybe just sideways? Either way, I will end up puking on the floor and emptying what little is inside me. All of it, until the heaving is dry and the acrid smell of bile chases everyone away. Everyone left the building. Including me. I need to pay attention to the little things. Hold on tight to the pillars of this meagre existence, to keep myself from stumbling. And while I am doing just that, all these unfiltered thoughts are rushing down onto the screen.
I put the cigarette to my lips and inhale. No filter. Rolled with my own shaky hands. Because – yes, why? Because it is edgy. Cool people roll their cigarettes themselves. It’s all pretending anyway. Oh yes, I’m a great pretender. Who gives a crap about my cigarettes and my thoughts. But I keep writing. Someday, the romantic voice inside of my head suggests, someone will read the mix of weirdness and eclecticism my brain produces. They will beg me to publish a book – a memoir – a biography of this writer and all will be good. At least, I have dreams. The other possibility, far more probable, is that the words stay unread. I will die in a stuffy room with overflowing ashtrays and too many empty bottles.
Maybe a cat or two. Sheets of papers with the start of the next big novel is strewn across the floor and the bed — music loud and on repeat. And in the centre of it all; me. Picture me like Jimi Hendrix, suffocated on my own vomit. A rock star death. Don’t be alarmed, though. I am not a rock star. I don’t play the guitar well enough and all in all, I am just a coward who never did any drugs. On second thought, aren’t most rock stars ridden with anxiety? Isn’t that why they turn to alcohol and drugs and whatnot? Always on the hunt for the next high? But one day your brain (and your soul too), are just too used to the girls screaming your name and the papers printing your photographs, your name in the headlines. And while you pretend to crave your privacy, the thought of being left alone and forgotten scares you to death. And so you power on, with some chemical help, because you couldn’t do all the shows and interviews and all that other crap that comes with being famous, without it. I don’t envy these people at all — not one bit.
And so I stare out onto the lake. The sky is grey; the water is too. And I wait for the next idea to come up. A real writer wouldn’t wait. They would write. Or am I wrong and a real writer would draw charts and write every idea down? Being organised? Where’s the fun in that? So – no labelling my ideas. Just sitting. Waiting. Staring. Smoking. And while I am doing that, the music plays softly in the background. It’s not loud enough to drown out the voices that keep telling me that I am a waste of talent. I can still hear them judging me and how I spend the days. For them, I am doing nothing. For me, I am savouring the moment. It’s as a friend told me once: We need time to understand who we are before someone else comes along and makes us into the version they want us to be. So maybe – just maybe, my answer to the question “What are you waiting for”, would not be “Life”, but maybe the truer answer would be “To understand”. I guess the reaction would be close to the same. They would urge me to get up and do something.
But, if they don’t see it, does that really mean that I am not doing anything? Because in my mind, eccentric as it may be, I am doing a whole lot. I am not giving up.
Written in March 2016.
I haven’t had a cigarette this year… And, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think that the last paragraph in this piece of writing is the most important thing I have ever written. Whenever I encounter people who are struggling with their mental health, whenever I am struggling myself, I remember these words. I am not giving up, even if people are not seeing that I am fighting.
She was fifteen when she first heard the song that changed her life and became path and direction of her journey. Music had been a distraction and a companion for most of her isolated childhood and youth. Being subject to emotional abuse, she had found somewhere safe to hide in her mind when music was playing. When silence reigned in her bedroom, thoughts threatened to destroy her fragile mind. Once in a while, her older sister took her to the city. They browsed stores for clothes and, her favourite part, for music. Their shopping spree always ended with an obligatory trip to the newsstand. Her sister bought the latest teen magazine, and she invested the last of her money in music magazines that came with free CDs.
On the bus home, both girls looked out of the window, trying to find ways to ignore what was awaiting them at home. The older one retreated to her own bedroom as soon as they walked through the door; the younger one was greeted with new chores that were added to her list and verbal abuse when she was not able to do the things she was commanded to do. She was not innocent though, she replied to every insult thrown at her with another insult. Inside, she broke apart, but she refused to show it to the outside. They would love to see her cry, and she was not willing to grant them this victory. Once done with everything, she too found her way to her sanctuary, where the first thing she did was putting on some music. But the music she listened to made her angry. Angrier than she already was. Her friends had suggested those bands, and for once, she had wanted to fit in, and something was appealing too, but she was beginning to see that those friends were morons who weren’t able to see past shallow lyrics and worshipped ugly minds and ideas. This was not her. She was too open-minded and free-spirited for this hate and ugliness. She had enough of those at home already, and she wanted more; needed more. Somehow she always knew that she deserved more.
She unpacked what she had bought, new CDs to put in the stand next to her stereo and listen to one after the other; a new black top with a large white and silvery bird, and the magazines from the newsstand. She wanted to give the new music on the free sampler attached to the magazine a listen first. Awaiting rejection, she knocked on her sister’s door to ask for the laptop they were sharing. With relief she saw that the older girl was not using it and with a warning to bring it back within an hour, she could take it. Once everything was plugged in and mounted, she was in for a surprise.
4 minutes and 42 seconds were about to change her life. The CD started on its own accord, and the first sounds she heard was an acoustic song by a band that was unknown to her. She didn’t know much about music, but she knew when she was touched by something good. She looked at the screen in front of her and was intrigued by the two men she saw with their guitars. One was sitting on a chair, strumming and singing; head slightly bowed. The other lay on the bed cradling his guitar like a lover; eyes closed. A myriad of emotions ran through her mind and body, too many emotions to place them and all she was capable of doing was sigh and smile. Wow! The song ended. The screen faded to black and she, she released another long breath. She was mesmerised by what she had heard and seen. Before the next song came on, she had to play this one again. The repeat button was the only option there was. This time, the smile was there from the beginning. As soon as the song had ended a second time, she knew she needed more; more of this beautiful and sad music. She was greedy, but this music, these lyrics, and the men somehow too, they had touched something deep inside her. Something was born and awoken in those few minutes of having listened to the song. In a frantic nearly obsessed way she browsed the internet to find out who this band was. They were brothers and part of a band. The clip of them in the hotel room was made to advertise their newest release. This British band had been around for a while, and she made a point to purchase as much of their back catalogue the next time she would go to her preferred record store. It was 1998; she was fifteen and deep inside, she knew that this band had just changed her entire life and thoughts.
She was twenty-six when an unexpected bout of depression hit her. It was the first time she felt helpless, hopeless, obsolete. Friends had long gone; only a couple had survived and morphed into adult friendships. Life had changed; she had moved on with a family of her own. She had a house, a husband, and two kids. Her mind had changed too; of course, it had, she was not a child anymore but an educated and intelligent woman. The music she listened to had changed, as well as the meaning it had in her life now. The band that had changed her life in her youth was still there and had stayed the same; more or less, releasing new music regularly.
It was 2009, and everything looked good on the outside; to some her life was perfect. But inside; inside everything was different; she had lost hope. She had forgotten how to have hope for a better future. She had no dreams, no goals, no future. She was existing, but not living. No one had ever promised anything to her. No one had ever punished her for dreaming. And yet, she was bruised by the daily struggles. Hurt by her own high expectations and standards; and yet she couldn’t change. She was powerless. Hope was lost.
She sat in front of the computer. It was silent in her room. Just she and her tormenting thoughts that became louder and more vicious with every passing sleepless night. She clicked YouTube links by the dozen to distract herself from the noise in her brain, but the music didn’t bring her peace anymore. The songs were filled with melancholy, and they all made her want to cry and hide from the world even more. Until seemingly out of nowhere, the song came on that had changed her life a decade ago appeared in a random playlist. The exact same version. With both men in a hotel room and the camera focusing on the guitarist who lay flat on his back playing the intro to the song. Forgotten Hopes.
The song that had changed so much such a long time ago was doing it again. She didn’t smile once when it played. She just watched. Frozen. Her mind was empty, devoid of thoughts. This hadn’t happened in a very long time. And when the screen faded to black to begin playing a new song, she paused the playlist and buried her face in her hands. She finally cried. She cried the tears she had kept in for years, and when she was all cried out, she felt freer than she had ever felt. Snot was running down her nose, and dark dots that used to be warm tears adorned her shirt, but it was okay. Her head hurt from the sudden release of those locked up emotions. But that too was okay. And once again, this song, this band that was ever-present in her life, had changed her train of thoughts. It was okay. It was okay, and everything would be okay. Music was healing her mind.
She was thirty-two in 2015, and after supporting one of the musicians of the band that had been her longtime companion in a crowd-funding campaign, she received a personalised song. It was the most unique gift she could ever receive. Forgotten Hopes, and it was sung just for her. It took her a couple of tries and a lot of headshaking and worrying, but in the end, she dared to send an email to the man whose lyrics had guided her through her life and whose words were inspiring her own creative mind. She thanked him and told him briefly how much she owed to him, his lyrics and his passion. He had touched her in all the right places, and now she wanted to touch him too. Give back a little. And by doing so, her life changed again. And maybe, his did too. For her, it was Important that he knew and understood that his presence on this earth had saved her, that it mattered. In her mind, every artist deserved to know that their light gave hope.
Forgotten Hopes. A vivid reminder to her to never lose hope.
I never meant to start a war, but here I am hurt and bleeding. Losing a battle with myself. I know how to hurt myself; which words cause the most damage; which thoughts will leave me paralyzed. And yet… I do not avoid them. I keep battling myself. I never meant to start a war, but here I am. Crying silent tears; choking on my breath. I cannot regret and I cannot redeem myself. And yet… I keep going over the same things in my head. I never meant to start a war, but I am losing. Wallowing in my bruised thoughts. Drowning. Suffocating. Going under in a sea of cutting blades. I wish we had never met. Get out of my head. Voices – be silent. Hands – be still. I never meant to start a war, but that’s who I am. Hurting, bruising, yelling – drowning myself.