DIARY: SRI LANKA, JANUARY 2015
Blowing your life to pieces can be done very quickly. Putting it back together is a slow process, with many steps. At first I can just about wake up, swallow tablets, get through the day. Go through the motions. Once a fortnight, I thrash out my thoughts in a counsellor’s office, sipping water between bouts of sobbing. I numb myself in the company of friends, mindless TV, long train journeys.
I’m like a ghost, drifting around my own home. But when I dare to leave, it’s the world that feels unreal, so I scuttle back to safety. I ache to be held and babied. Actually, I ache to give up all together. I would, too, but I have something to try for: a holiday with my mum. Counselling, tablets, endless love and cuddles have failed her: sunshine and a change of scenery are her next gambit.
This trip is a huge source of concern. I can barely leave my own flat, let alone go to Asia. But—because I feel I owe it to her—I decide I must seriously try.
I start with the mechanics. For two months, food has sat like cotton wool on my tongue. The bones in my spine are visible. Eat anything you like, the counsellor advises: don’t worry about it. So I don’t. For a fortnight, I eat nothing but toast and butter, iced buns dunked in Earl Grey, and French Onion soup. I seem to have bypassed hunger, and even thirst, but after a while my stomach remembers what it is to enjoy food.
Eventually, when my limbs start to feel like they belong to me, I force myself out into the crisp December mornings and walk-shuffle-drag myself along the roads. I am impressively unfit. My thighs are lead and I shake with exertion.
But each step lightens the weight in my chest. Even on Christmas—especially on Christmas, the worst of days for the grief-stricken—I throw on trainers and an offensively blue windcheater. For the first time in two years, things get a little better—or at least, they stop getting considerably worse.
A part of me is nervous to declare rock-bottom. Rock-bottom has, at current count, been reached on at least five occasions, only for me to stumble to impressively new lows. But maybe the last few months really have been it. Maybe lying in bed, debating a hot bath and a sharp knife, is as bad as it can get.
Christmas passes, and the small, almost imperceptible improvements continue. By the time the trip rolls around, I am hopeful. It’s New Years Day, for one thing, which feels auspicious. Tabula rasa. On the plane, I worry myself gently about being far from home, losing my tablets, not enjoying this expensive trip and pissing my mum off. I mean, wanting to top yourself on safari seems really fucking ungrateful. I can’t talk to my counsellor about it all, so I settle for a large complimentary baileys, and in-flight entertainment.
As it happens, there’s no need for fear. Some places are irrevocably good for the soul, and this is one of them. It turns out going far away is exactly what I need. Days pass in a splendid blur of heat and mountains, foreign voices, spices, animals, magnificent sunrises. I hold strong. I have patched myself back together slowly, delicately, and in the warmth of the Sri Lankan sun my pieces begin to set, like a glazed clay pot baking in a kiln.
I enjoy the food, the people, the stark reminder that my grief and my illness is just a small thread in a global tapestry. It’s been months, perhaps even years, since I’ve felt anything like this pure and uncomplicated happiness. As the trip ends, I even begin to toy with the idea that I might be okay.
We’re on a morning safari. The sun’s on my face in an open-top jeep. A snuffling boar darts across the road. Elephants—disinterested, ancient-looking—linger by the road side. A sole leopard pads across an outcrop of rock to survey her Kingdom.
And there are a thousand flowers, spiders web, hollowed out trees. Casts of dappled sunlight on the rust-coloured track, and puddles that gleam like mirrors. Alone in the back of the car, above the roar of the jeep, I say the words out loud, as if to test them out: I am okay. I’m going to be okay. This life—this life, that can have such beauty in it—is one I want to live.
Hello, lovely readers! I’m taking a break next week as I’ll be on holiday with my Mum. This got me thinking about the last holiday we took together (January 2015). The above is a real extract from my diary/writing at the time, when I began writing about my mental health to try and piece together how I could recover. My Mum, in her infinite kindness and wisdom, was a huge part of my recovery, and now – as we head up for another trip together – I wanted to share something to let her know just what Sri Lanka meant to me.
Barring the odd grammar fix, this is pretty much exactly
what I wrote at the time (January, 2015). Leading up to Sri Lanka, I was at my lowest ebb. Now, two years on, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years and have my mental health well managed. It’s quite shocking to revisit this and realise how much has changed—and I hope someone, somewhere finds some hope in that. I’ll be sharing some more diary extracts in the future, so stay tuned.
Love Nic x