Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Black Dog Lost

Black Dog Lost

As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to an end, it seems very relevant to post these words from local novelist, Amanda Nicol, on feeling suicidal. Suicide: a rarely discussed global pandemic. Amanda’s deeply moving experience is unique, but will resonate for anyone who has experienced such feelings and thoughts.

Black Dog Lost

Trigger warning: This post describes suicidality, suicidal ideation and symptoms of severe depression.

‘Foul devil, for God’s sake, hence, and trouble us not; For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell, Fill’d it with cursing cries and deep exclaims.’

—Spoken by Lady Anne (Act 1, Scene 2) Richard III

I’ve just deleted what I’ve written so far. I was doing what I’ve done before, which is to write impersonally and objectively about depression. For what? To protect what or whom? By the grace of something and with no idea why or how that shift happens, I’m no longer depressed. The curse has run its course. But I know that under the right, or should I say wrong, circumstances I could go to that hell again — anyone could. And if I do, I must remember that I can come out of a depression — even one that lasts for two years. Two years. I still can’t get my head around it. But because of depression’s deceitful nature, I probably wouldn’t remember. I could read this and think this was the lie. I think you could call depression of this order psychotic, not as visible as manic psychosis, but equally good at distorting ‘reality’.

Suicidal people who ‘complete’ the final act of self-destruction can’t tell us how it felt to live and die like this. Suicidal people might be so depressed they can’t describe how it feels even if they wanted to. It’s the loneliest place in the world, but it’s a very real place, and I feel the need to describe what it has been like, for me, in my particular hell, uniquely constructed by my life experiences, and not so uniquely by this society, which has taken us collectively a long way away from anything that could be said to resemble sanity.

So please don’t read on if knowing that I have been suicidal for two years is enough information, because I am going to describe my day-to-day life for the last hundred weeks or so, and for some this might be way too much information and just too damn upsetting. Am I even allowed to express this? Should I risk it? Should I shut up about it? Or is it OK, important even (if only to me) to write this down, to describe that place, as an aspect of experience, which I am so glad to now remember is after all a human one, if an acutely unwell human one?

That’s why in the past I’ve described this most personal and subjective state impersonally and objectively. And why I have been quiet and hiding for so long. To want to die, or rather to no longer wish to live like this is unspeakable because you know that you are betraying life on every level, once again, there you are, that naughty, angry, desperately sad and ungrateful child, throwing the ultimate gift out of the pram. It is wrong and you know it.

But how do you know it? Not because God, or the state or anyone else has told you that it’s wrong, but because it is wrong — very, very wrong and you feel it in the deepest part of you — you know that you should be happy, you know it was your birthright. Or if not happy then at the very least in a functioning state of wonder at this wild experience of consciousness, in a body so exquisitely designed and adapted for its purpose that we don’t even notice its miraculous daily doings. You’re too busy grieving for your lost life, where once upon a time all its needs were met in a warm, dark womb and never again fully after that; for its potential, and in that polar opposite of living that you find yourself, your grief must come before, not after, your death. This crucifying guilt and profound internalised sense of badness must have come from somewhere. But where? If mania can feel like spiritual enlightenment, then this is its brutal, diabolical, polar opposite. A blackout — spiritual endarkenment.

It begins in hospital where I have been for three months or thereabouts, having had yet another life-saving surgery for bowel cancer. I’m awaiting another; hooked up to TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition made of who knows what) while trying to cope with a vesuvian ileostomy, which makes my permanent colostomy seem easy. I know that more systemic poisoning in the form of chemo is on the horizon, and I haven’t got the strength to refuse it. All that wouldn’t be so bad, but my life, the house of cards that it was, is collapsing … and so am I. No warrior now, no cancer’ thriver’, no. I’m now the coward I must always have been after all behind that once-so-convincing persona, which now is becoming clear to my very sick self to have been a charade. My anxiety levels are through the roof. I recognise this to be the prelude to the damnation I’ve felt twice in my life before. I watch its approach like a tornado. I can’t run and I can’t hide.

The Healthcare Assistants that take my obs — my sky-high pulse, my low BP and 02 saturation — tell me to chill as my heart races, pumped with adrenaline for the flight I cannot take. Other patients seem superhuman in their bravery and cheeriness and I am deeply ashamed of my inability to be as they appear. They are fighting for their lives, but I already know that mine isn’t worth fighting for, even if I could begin to. I’m given diazepam by kind nurses to calm me, psychiatrists turn up at the bedside and prescribe mirtazapine. I gulp them down, knowing their help will be fleeting, at most. Friends and family visit, full of loving concern, but my connection with them is getting weaker, fading out like a distant radio signal as I sink lower down the dial, before dying completely. I’m alone. Undetectable, unreachable and lost.

God, this is hard. Step outside, fill the bird-feeder. I don’t know if I can do this. Breathe. The sun is out. The world is exquisite in her beauty. I’m almost blinded by it as I adjust to the light. If I wasn’t so physically screwed maybe I would be flying towards that light right now, propelled ever higher by the phenomenal force of my spirit’s return. But no — no auras around life forms, no special signs just for me. Go back to the kitchen table and sit down again.

Home. Except it isn’t. It’s an empty stage. Half-packed up as we were about to move. An ill-judged plan, initiated by mad me, naturally, which we had no choice (or rather, I had no choice, meaning that we then together had no choice) but to back out of at the last minute, knowing that this would severely affect the lives of the other people in the chain. I cited upcoming chemo as the reason, but there was much more to it than that. I knew I couldn’t even pack a box.

My beautiful, sensitive, affectionate dog greets me hopefully and lovingly, sensing my sickness. She tries to get close, curling into me at night as I toss, turn, lie awake, already knowing exactly where I am. In the days and weeks that follow she distances herself, particularly after one day when I go properly mad; I lose it — if I still had it to lose — punching walls and clawing at myself, totally unable to contain my pain. It scares me, my husband, and her. I’ve blown her trust, just like that. But, like the loyal animal she is, she follows me into darkness, mirroring my despair and losing her love of life too. Why wouldn’t she? I’m no longer able to fulfil my responsibility to her — but she does hers to me. And yes, I might want to die, but I sure as hell don’t want her to.

I start to think the unthinkable, that I must send her away because I can’t meet her needs, let alone mine — or anyone else’s. She’s so pure and uncomplicated in her response to this new circumstance. She hangs her head and walks away from her food, disinterested. She stops running and playing like she did. Always skinny, her hip bones start to show and I’m terrified. I can’t take it. I just can’t bear it. She stops coming to my room at night, steers clear of me, growls. Wow. Get me. I even manage to make an enemy of man’s best friend.

Seven years ago, during my last major depression, our stunning, beloved, athletic, six-year old black Labrador became ill and died of lymphoma. That must have been my fault too, and I can’t risk it happening again. Even our childhood family dog (our completely untrained childhood dog) was put down after biting me. He must have sensed the bad in me. Fuck, fuck, fuck this piece of shit that is me. I destroy the animals that I loved so much, or in this state, feel that maybe I didn’t love. Not only do I want to die, but I fucking deserve it.

Every day is the worst of my life. I wake in the night, if I sleep at all, in a sweat of fear. I scrabble in my bedside drawer for a pill and lie waiting for it to kick in, becoming more immune to their action with each one I take. Sleeping pills give me no more than one hour and eventually, no respite at all. I was over-prescribed quetiapine. One can knock me out for three or four hours. I have a packet left. I’ll have to do it when they run out. I wake and take more. I get hold of some other benzos, and two of them do the trick.

On waking again I take more, to blot out the light and sounds of the birds, knowing their chorus is beautiful but finding it too agonising to know it but not feel it. I might do this again. Maybe twice. It’s warm in bed, it’s relatively safe, it’s dark. I’m trying to crawl back inside my mother, before everything went so wrong. I find myself once more searching online for anything that could give me even a glimmer of hope of recovery, or validate my horrific experience in any way — even if that means concluding that I am an alien, exiled from humanity forever.

I’m baffled by the simplest task, how on earth do people manage their bills, finances, car insurance or tax returns? I couldn’t survive without my husband who, despite problems in our marriage that never been dealt with because of the time and energy taken by a decade-long cancer journey, has put up with me for years while I gave nothing, nothing, in return. I would starve without him because I cannot go to the shops. I cannot face seeing anyone. I can’t bear to be alone yet being in company is almost worse.

All the while the taunting voice tells me that I messed up everything and everyone I ever came in contact with, that I am fundamentally bad, that anyone who loved me or liked me must be a fool, that I can do nothing, which is true — I can’t. I scroll through all my friendships, actions, decisions. I am the most fucked up person on the planet. I’m 53; I have no job, I’m on benefits, I’ve got no friends because they were friends with a fake, not this husk that I really am. I’ve contributed nothing; how could I? My paintings are rubbish; my books absurd and embarrassing. I cancel my account with the printer. I am nothing.

I delete my twitter account, all those follows and follows back I’d enjoyed accruing over years, tuning into the organisations and people I admired. All gone with a couple of clicks. Same goes for Facebook. I have nothing to share of any worth. ‘Are you sure you want to delete this account?’ Yes, I am sure. (Luckily, Facebook makes this nearly impossible. My account is deactivated, much like me.) I am also sure when I delete a memoir about my cancer journey, including treatment abroad, that I had worked on for two years (thankfully it appeared on an external hard drive). Sure too when I do the same for emails, photos (again, thank God for the cloud) and all deletable evidence of my existence before the ultimate undoable deletion of myself.

I go and see my dad because he is nearby and it means I don’t have to be alone. He loves me dearly, wants to help me desperately, and he’s frustrated that he can’t. He doesn’t understand, who does, who could? He listens to my lament — that I’ve been stupid, reckless and impulsive all my life, and yes, he did believe the hype about the old me. He writes me a cheque, for which I’m grateful and tells me there’s nothing wrong with me.

I tell him I should be in a mental hospital, a therapeutic community, somewhere, anywhere other than walking up and down my street trying to appear ‘normal’. I am seeking asylum. I wish I had a black boiler suit to wear, some signifier of my banishment, like the widow’s weeds of mourning. I’m in no normal state, and acknowledgement of that might, at the very least, be helpful. But our culture still doesn’t find it easy to acknowledge or accommodate acute psychological distress, preferring the head-in-the-sand, socially acceptable positivity of our 21st-century fools’ paradise.

He tells me he doesn’t agree. What I do need is to do summon the blood, count my blessings and remember just how lucky I am, to think of others, listen to peaceful music, stop wasting my talents and just do something. And that everybody feels like this — it’s the human condition — and all the things that make a depressed person hate themselves even more, if possible, because yes, he’s right of course. People close to those suffering mental agony can say deeply inappropriate things, which of course they may not mean, nor even register saying, and which would be deeply regretted if their effect was understood. But as my nephew so wisely put it, when he was very small, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can hurt my feelings’ — a much-needed upgrade of an outdated adage if ever there was one.

I’m told to be kind to myself. But as I tell my therapist, I can’t even treat myself to a deep breath. I don’t enjoy food. I have no desire to nourish myself. All self-care has gone out the window. I couldn’t care less, and even if I did, I still couldn’t do it. Even the thought of washing, dressing, household chores, cooking, gardening and the ultimate — getting out the door — brings me to my knees. They are insurmountable, impossible tasks.

I don’t recognise myself in the mirror. I don’t know what to wear, how to dress this creature. Nothing looks right, feels right or is right. My hair is a short, frizzy mess and reminds me of how I looked as a very awkward eleven-year-old. I am ugly. This is the true me, The Picture of Dorian Gray version. I have it cut shorter into some sort of shape and am told I look like a French woman shorn for being a Nazi collaborator, which is a strange thing to say, to put it mildly. I sit stunned, mute, wondering if maybe that is what I was in in a past life. Sounds crazy, but there it is.

How can this be real? How can this be my once so beautiful, rich, colourful, manageable if difficult life? I go to the psychiatrist and sit in the formal glass box of a room as if I’m being interviewed for a job (as if). He is a nice man, and I’m sure in this line of work for all the right reasons. He suggests trying yet another potentially suicide inducing anti-depressant, another toxic mood stabiliser, and all the ‘right’ things, like volunteering, which I agree to try.

I’ve already reluctantly attended free courses and they haven’t changed a thing: Understanding Psychosis, Dealing with Depression and Anxiety and so on. I drag myself to rooms in libraries and charity centres to be with strangers who are also trying to cope with the many and various symptoms of their deep pain, however that pain is manifesting. I sign up to help manage a woodland and pull up bracken, dig out bamboo and chop down rhododendrons two days a week.

I’m useless at chopping and sawing. Frankly, I’m a danger to myself and others. Not because I’m going to attack anyone, but highly likely to saw off a finger or cut down a tree in such a cack-handed way that it kills one of the other volunteers. ‘It’s good you are out interacting with people,’ I am told by well-wishers. But I’m not. On the contrary, I’m quiet, awkward, mirthless. I know others can sense it, in fact, sensing it is not necessary — it’s blindingly obvious. I feel it is me who causes silence to descend over our packed lunches as everyone is sucked into my vortex. They are kind and lovely people who, once upon a time, I would have enjoyed being around. They know that I have ‘mental health issues’ and cancer. I envy them their good, honest, human motivation and enjoyment of the fresh air and exercise, their joking around, despite their own life struggles and issues.

I know I should, but I don’t find it therapeutic. It’s just another thing that I can’t do. Another fail. If it was possible to feel any worse, my inability to cope with this wholesome activity manages to achieve that. I gaze around at this beautiful place feeling nothing, no connection with my once beloved Mother Nature whatsoever. I feign delight at the sight of this or that beautiful thing, hearing the words, ‘If this place can’t heal you, nothing will.’ It can’t heal me. Nothing will. But I knew that anyway. I’m just killing time.

I see my dog everywhere. This is after I did do what should never be done — rehome her, because as everyone knows, A Dog is for Life, etc. I think how she would have loved it here. I can see her walking in front of me on the mossy paths. I drive to where I know she is exercised, a place where I have walked for most of my adult life, but can’t imagine ever walking in again. I am stalking my old dog FFS. Psycho or what? I watch her in the distance once, and another time she is close enough for me to see she is OK. How I manage to drive home I will never know.

Her hair is still all over the place, on blankets and carpet edges and her requests to go out are etched on the glass of kitchen door. When I hear that she has died under sedation after slipping and breaking her leg, just as we were leaving to visit Mum’s grave, on her birthday, after her death from cancer two-and-a-half years previously, my first thought is, ‘Here’s another thing that I’m not going to feel’. That the good people who adopted her have to now grieve her because of me is beyond horror, yet still, I don’t feel it properly. By now, after hours of horrifying internet research, I’ve decided that I must be a psychopath, because I feel no empathy whatsoever in my emotional coma. I’m numb. I can’t even grieve for my mother, or care about my dad’s loss and loneliness, or for once dear friends who have died since all this began, or their grieving partners and families, and now my darling dog too.

Relatives from the other side of the world come to visit the family, some with their children. These are people who I have wanted to connect with, and such visits are hardly frequent. What must they think of me? I miss my mum’s wisdom that would have explained my situation to them, perhaps asked them to postpone since a family member was seriously ill. Instead, I join them in restaurants and avoid eye contact. It’s excruciating, this attempt at normalcy.

I am invited to socialise with caring people. They might say that I seem a bit better. But what do they know? I’ve forgotten, if I ever even had, any cultural references, opinions or even interest in what is happening — Brexit, fires, flooding, wars, refugee crises, species extinctions, possible pandemics, and nice things too — film, art, books, sunny days — all of it. I can’t bear music; it’s torture, grating on my severed nerves. I can’t connect with TV drama, or read books because all that is for real humans who feel things with their hearts.

I make excuses not to go to the pub, or to see a band or join in with anything. I feel terrified at the thought of unavoidable upcoming occasions, like Christmas, or birthdays. I am a party pooper par excellence, guaranteed to make your evening less than comfortable by my very presence. I am paranoid. I know people talk and wonder what has happened. Or do they? Maybe not. Maybe they got compassion fatigue and moved on. Maybe they just figured out what a shit I really am. Or maybe they knew that anyway.

I stumble across to the church opposite where I live, not a place I would usually associate with comfort, desperate. Sometimes it’s locked. Sometimes it’s open and empty. I wander around feeling damned, stopping to look at the statues of Christ, of the Sacred Heart, Pietà and St Thérèse of Lisieux, ‘The Little Flower of Jesus’, that Mum loved. I feel close to her here. Despite her complicated relationship with the Catholicism, she loved churches, and despite my opinion of organised religion, so do I. She would light candles for her loved ones in holy places wherever she went. I light one for her, imploring that she too forgive me for the ultimate sin. Sometimes the priest is there; he is kind, I like him, but he can’t help me. He sits with me, prays for me, blesses me, and tells me to talk to my psychiatrist again.

We even go on holiday, which everyone hopes will help, kind friends recommend a hotel and get us upgraded, even ordering champagne for the room, then lend us their lovely apartment on our next trip. But instead of soaking up the sights and smells of other places, I remain in my impenetrable torment, wondering how on earth people pack bags, buy souvenirs, take photos and have fun.

We travel as a family to a Christmas market in Germany. It’s meant to be a festive treat for all, generously paid for by my sister and brother-in-law, and a chance to celebrate my dad’s birthday in the country he loves so much. We visit spectacular art galleries, which as someone who restored Old Master paintings for 20 years, I usually would have devoured. Instead, I stand petrified before visions of hell in mediaeval religious art, wondering just how accurate a representation of where I’m going they are. Old friends of dad’s gather for the celebratory feast. They wonder how I am. I get through it, with the help of bucketfuls of wine.

I see other family members, and they try to comfort me, telling me I am not this person. That I am ill and it will pass and that they love me. I drone on and on about what I am, and they must be at their wits end, but still look after me, invite me to stay, drive me around because I can’t face the train and I wonder how I ever used to find my way around London or go on the tube.

I am not the (fake) fun aunty I used to be to my nephews. I have absolutely nothing to offer them. The few old friends I haven’t managed to repel call, text and email. I don’t know what to say or how to reply. Still, they call, text and email and even though I don’t know what to say, I know that I am grateful to them for trying. The landline eventually falls silent, and it’s almost a relief. I swear I don’t know how I do it, but I do — I somehow get through yet another day.

One friend stays closer than anyone. Every day she texts me, calls me, tells me not to be lonely and to come over, or she visits me, constantly telling me she believes in me. She lets me stay for days, feeds me, talks to me and holds me, and just keeps doing it, for weeks, months and now years. I am scared that she too will tire of me. But she doesn’t. There are not many people in the world like her, and how or why she does all this for me, I can’t imagine. But she does and says she does it because she knows who I am even if I don’t, she’s known me for twenty years, and she loves me.

I help someone who I met at the bipolar support group (on the few times I make it I consistently score zero on the Bipolar UK mood scale) to redecorate her home. She is kind, funny and puts up with my hideous mood. I’m grateful; ‘happy’ to help would be too strong, but she has been to very low, and very high places too, so I feel a kinship with her.

I offer her our dog’s redundant cushion for her’s, I want to collapse on it and be near her, search for any trace of her. We work, we drink and smoke. After ten tobacco-free years, I’m a chain-smoker, or near enough. It is something I can actually do. I pour alcohol down my neck and it helps a bit, if only to wash down the fags. I drink more than I’ve ever done in my life — once just a couple of glasses was my limit, but there’s no limit now, and strangely, much as I don’t feel any emotion, I get vaguely drunk but I don’t get hangovers, but then nor do I feel hungry, not hungry, tired (despite not sleeping), not tired (if I do) or anything else. Even smells I used to love I turn away from — lavender, Chanel Cristalle, incense, all do for my nose what music does for my ears. None of the usual bodily signals get through, if indeed my body is feeling them at all. It’s all-pervasive, this living deadness except, of course, for the agony of my colossal burden of guilt and shame.

I decide (funny, because I can’t make a decision to save my life if that’s not a bad turn of phrase) that I must be that internet supervillain — a ‘Collapsed Malignant Narcissist’, ‘in a self-imposed exile from which he may never recover’. I tell my therapist that I’m so evil I could be a reincarnation of Hitler. It’s my karma, this hell I’m in. That must be why I was taken to Belsen so often as a child when we lived on the nearby army camp, in an army quarter once occupied by Nazis, who no doubt worked there, next to a disused railway line that no doubt led there. I hated going to that place, where the birds don’t sing, where it’s a wonder plants even photosynthesise, where I am shown huge mounds that contain the remains of huge numbers of human beings because it is important to remember. Which it is. But I didn’t, I couldn’t remember, how could I? All I felt was terror and horror and knew the world to be a very, very, very frightening place, confirmed by my desperately unhappy time at boarding school.

She tells me she definitely thinks not. OK, Jezebel then — just a hair’s breadth away from the Lord of Darkness himself, destroyer of families, partners … and dogs. But I’m still adamant that I fit the collapsed narc bill:

‘This happens because the fiction the narcissist has constructed about themselves and their life is very fragile. It is not really a very good defense against the unrelenting self-hatred and self-abuse the narcissist piles on themselves nonstop. When this defensive shield becomes fractured in any way, all of that self-hatred, all of the pathological shame, all of the narcissist’s true feelings for themselves come pouring in and they can’t take it. They crack. Their facade is gone, the shield comes down and we see the disorder as it really is: terrified, hysterical, needy, psychotic, paranoid, delusional and consumed with need.’

Another says, ‘At the dark heart of narcissism is a void.’ See! Don’t you see? It’s me!

She tells me this is absolutely not true. It’s become fashionable to bandy the word ‘narcissist’ about and she doesn’t believe in ‘personality disorders’. In the past I would have agreed, strongly, that it’s just too easy and takes any blame or responsibility away from society, childhood trauma or the environment while medicalising the unmedicalisable. It is just yet more unhelpful labelling of people’s wounds (without condoning inappropriate behaviours); it’s pop psychology. It’s horrible, judgemental and cruel. Which it is. Just like me.

I listen to her, trying to nod but usually shaking my suicidal head, all the while thinking, Yes, but you don’t know me, do you? Because I know that whatever did or didn’t happen to me in my childhood, which didn’t involve recognisable abuse, privation or trauma of the order experienced by so many children in this world; no one or nothing is to blame for this except me, me, because I am bad. Rotten to the core. My body knows this. That’s why I now have cancer in my liver. Good. I’m glad. Because all I want to do is die anyway.

I decline further cancer treatment, which may only be palliative anyway. I can’t even contemplate let alone face yet another surgery. Others do. They are the brave ones, the good people. My sister tells the oncologist she is frightened that it is my mental state that is making this decision. I shake my head. No. This is the real me now. Let this thing take me. Please.

And that’s what I think about, day and night. But that’s going to take too long, be too horrific, too painful; it’s too awful to contemplate. I know I’ve ruined my relationship with my local medical service with my contrary beliefs and with the hospice, recently so good to our family, and which has offered support that I’m unable to accept. There’s only one solution. It could even be better for my husband, family and friends, to ruin their lives quickly rather than slowly, I kid myself, momentarily. There’s a spate of suicides in our community; even one of my new house-decorating chum’s workmen takes his own life. Damn, they’ve made it even more difficult for me now.

I took an overdose in my twenties, that’s another story, but my God, do I wish it had worked. Now, I’m a suicide expert. I have read every single thing about it online. After my death my search history will reveal all. I know all about every method, its lethality, risk of survival, pain level— everything. I obsess over my gruesome research and decide on a plan. My husband knows how I am feeling; one day I go out unannounced, yes, to scout around the woods, and come home to hear the police are on their way. He is desperate, furious. Tells me it’s the worst day of his life. They ask if I am OK. I nod. I just went for a walk.

They tell me it’s an illness like any other. I nod again, lying. To wish to commit suicide is the ultimate lonely, dirty, shameful secret. I grind up all the oxycodone left over from my last surgery and mix it up with anything I can find. After the police incident I hand it over to my husband, shamefaced, like a schoolgirl having a packet of ten Rothmans confiscated. I try to walk into the sea in the middle of the night but knew I’d just end up swimming. I sneak home, wet and cold.

I drive to famous suicide spots. One time my dear friend rings me when I’m halfway there. She says she had a bad feeling about me, where am I? She tells me she wants to see me and that I must come over right now. I swing the car around and drive back again. I’m getting to know this road very well. Another time, I am spotted by the good people who patrol the area. They don’t approach, just watch, assessing the risk. I do what I’m sure many others have done — I pretend to take a photo of the view, terrify myself, and go back to the car, stuff the note left on the passenger seat into my pocket and drive home. If I do this again and back out, I will be caught and locked up. Next time I won’t hesitate. In my sick state, I admire all those who made that leap and guess that it wasn’t just the desire for an end the unspeakable pain, but also the deep shame of whatever they felt they had done that drove them over the edge, the very shame of feeling suicidal, of being capable of self-murder. But I’m not as brave as them. I can’t do it. I’m trapped in this broken body.

My thoughts loop incessantly. I need to die. I must die. There’s no choice. Oh, what a relief it will be, even though I will go to hell and will continue to feel exactly like this for all eternity. At least I won’t be visible, won’t feel this excruciating stress and pain, or have to dress, wash, or deal with my stoma, which has become a symbol of all that I am.

I will do it when nothing else of any importance is happening for anyone I know. But there are no such days, and I reel with the thoughts of the consequences, the decimation and aftershocks of the nuclear family superbomb I am about to drop. I feel sick. I’m going to be sick. I must stop these thoughts and go back to plan B, or rather plan Big C before once again, that, with it’s long drawn out excruciating pain, medical interventions and morphine (though that would be most welcome) becomes an intolerable idea.

Calm down, calm down, calm down. It’s OK. There is a way out; there is —the suicide option. Off it goes again, my demented mind, dragging itself along these far too well-worn pathways, made ever harder to negotiate by yet more debris and chemical dirt — benzodiazepines, SSRIs, antipsychotics, cigarettes and alcohol — anything I can find to give me an hour or two’s release, seeing horror on all sides, like some filthy, deathly First World War trench in Northern France.

And again, Oh, what a relief it will be, even though I will go to hell and continue to feel exactly like this for all eternity. At least I won’t be visible, won’t feel this excruciating stress and pain.. And repeat. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat … repeat … repeat … ’till the last syllable of recorded time.’

© Amanda Nicol 2010 updated 2020

Amanda Nicol is the author of House of Bread, Dead Pets Society and Badric’s Island.

Link to HOT article: Dialogue with a Diagnosis, also by Amanda Nicol, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.



House of Bread, a novel, is based on Amanda Nicol’s experience of a #bipolar diagnosis, sectioning and hospitalisation.

‘I read it practically at one sitting … House of Bread is very impressive. Vivid, painful and completely engrossing.’ 

‘This is an extremely well written, intelligent, sharp, funny, sad and philosophical novel. The setting is extremely well handled. Dan is sectioned and the plot cleverly builds around what took place before he was sectioned and how this is affecting his life and the life of his friends and family. He’s got ‘clinical happiness’ and I’ve not seen a better descriptive fictional account of this disorder. Contemporary fiction tends to be aimed at the twenty/thirty-something market, but this novel would be bought by readers of all ages. The book is both challenging and readable – a skill which not all writers possess.’ 


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Posted 12:57 Sunday, May 31, 2020 In: Health Matters

1 Comment

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  1. Bruce Nicol

    A sad but impressive narrative written as a ‘stream of conciousness’ which affords the reader some insight into the puzzling and upsetting condition known as ‘mental illness’.

    Comment by Bruce Nicol — Sunday, May 31, 2020 @ 19:48

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