Trigger warning: This publication contains reference to subjects that some readers may find distressing including: self-harm, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, gambling, anxiety, depression, OCD and eating disorders. Reader discretion is advised.
‘‘No… No… No, I cannot take any more of this!’’ I roared.
Anger, frustration and desperation bubble up in my chest, overwhelming me; threatening to suffocate me.
I am finally broken. It has taken me four excruciatingly difficult years of propping up three other human beings to reach my snapping point.
My husband, Paul, relapsed yesterday, spiralling back into self-harm with drink, prescription pills and a razor blade, from his place of isolation and deep depression. My son Jack’s obsessive-compulsive disorder has gone into overdrive over me touching raw meat and ‘it’ has had the audacity to forbid me from entering my own room, suggesting I sleep on the kitchen floor to prevent the outbreak of deadly food poisoning. (An imaginary risk of course, but OCD is a cunning parasite squatting in my son’s mind, and it’s very convincing).
I grab my keys from the little hook in the hallway and run outside to the sanctuary of the communal lane, slamming the door behind me with enough gusto to rattle the entire block of flats.
Bursting into hot, angry tears, I run, sobbing, as far up the lane as my legs will carry me, oblivious to whomever may be watching. I am way past caring. ‘‘Fuck you all, and your struggles!’’ I cry.
But no one is listening.
At the back of our communal lane is a strip of no man’s land that the neighbouring flats sit adjacent to. The back of a large building sits on the other side, so no one overlooks it, making it the perfect dumping ground for discarded mattresses or fridges, left there to disintegrate.
It is also the perfect place for me to collapse on the ground; to sob unseen, defeated and broken.
Mental illness is invisible in many ways, especially to the outside world. People outside immediate family and friends can’t see it, especially if, like me, you hide it. Yet it is the biggest and ugliest of unseen beasts at times and it has permeated our home, filling every inch of our place with its heavy, sombre presence. None of us invited it in, but it didn’t care to wait for an invitation. It has shamed me into hiding away, covering its tracks, and making excuses for it, carefully treading on thousands of eggshells around it each day. I hate it, resent it, in fact, and I despise what it has done to my whole family. But for now, the beast I am running from cannot find me here, I am safe from its relentless taunting.
It is the end of May 2021, a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, and the first holiday weekend since the third lockdown has eased. People have flocked to the seaside for their staycations. I can hear life all around me: people laughing in nearby flats, cooking BBQs in the warm sunshine; traffic bustling past and the faint hum of jet skis at the beach nearby. I despise their normality. The last thing I want to hear right now is people enjoying their lives whilst mine lies shattered in pieces.
I pick up my phone and call a crisis support line – twice – but it rings out both times. I desperately want someone to listen to me, to ease my pain; to hear my stories of Jack taking a knife to his throat during lockdown, and of his overwhelming OCD compulsions that are consuming both of our lives around the clock; to listen to my tales of Paul’s self-harm, his depression and alcohol relapses and of Thomas’ gambling and depression.
I long for someone to verbally soothe me.
What I really want, though, is a stranger on the phone to tell me it is okay to run away, even just for one night; something I seem unable to permit myself to do. But nobody is on the end of this phone. No one is listening.
Their absence sparks a flicker of fire in my belly. In all honesty, I’ve finally gone beyond the point of asking for anything.
Why the hell do I need to ask anyone’s permission to start living? This is my life, and it is about time I claimed it back.
I search my phone frantically for a local hotel room to escape to, but I can only find one room in the entire town. Everywhere is completely sold out, apart from one extortionate penthouse suite and there is no way my budget can stretch that far. Finally, after twelve long months, I’ve actually summoned the gumption to escape and there is not a single place left to run away to.
I throw my phone across the path in frustration and pick up a small stone, scraping at the concrete, angrily scratching crisscross patterns across it. Something catches my eye: a beautiful yellow dandelion is growing through a crack in the concrete. Its golden yellow petals cut through the greyness of the broken path, and it overshadows the filth and discarded cigarette butts around it. It may be just a weed, but I see it in all its beauty. In this moment, it is the most beautiful living thing I have ever seen. Despite its surroundings, it has found its way to push up through that crack, to have life. It is not complaining or giving up; it’s surviving, and it will go on to finish flowering. One day soon, the wind will carry its dainty seeds somewhere else to carry on the cycle of its life.
Just like that dandelion, I have pushed through adversity and survived. The only difference is I have fought it the whole way, kicking and screaming and complaining, constantly trying to control outcomes when all that was needed was to grow with life, not fight against it.
I close my eyes and raise my face to the sunshine, bathing in its gentle warmth. I find myself smiling. Even in the midst of all this chaos, this darkness, there is warmth and light.
There is hope.
"Four years ago, Emily, a divorced mother of two, was living her best life with a new partner and blended family of six. But then addiction and mental illness entered her home uninvited, threatening to tear the whole family apart.
With an alcoholic husband and two teenage sons – one a depressed gambler and the other with chronic obsessive-compulsive disorder – Emily is left to cope alone. And when the Covid pandemic hits, Emily, a serial people-pleaser, enabler and born rescuer, almost breaks too.
This true story delves into the darkest sides of mental illness and addiction with raw, often harrowing honesty. It shines a light on taboo subjects including self-harm, suicidal feelings, gambling, alcoholism, depression, severe OCD and eating disorders, all exacerbated by an unprecedented global pandemic and dwindling support services.
This is a story of remarkable strength, self-realisation and reclamation of a lost identity. This is a story of finding hope, pushing through the cracks in the darkness."
'Pushing Through The Cracks' is available on Amazon.