Lately I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the health of myself and Keith’s relationship. Yes, we are still together. Yes, we are very happy, happier than we have been in quite a while, in fact, both in our partnership and as individuals. And no, we no longer share a house.
Some of our friends and family have registered concern and even alarm at this new development, which is understandable. This kind of separation conventionally heralds the eventual death knell of the relationship, a last leg hinted at with false smiles stretched uncomfortably over true expressions of unbridled terror and vague murmurings about “needing space”. But those who know us well also know that, as a couple, Keith and I have rarely been conventional. These people are also aware that I have been ill for a very long time.
I like using that expression, “I’ve been ill.”It makes people so much less uncomfortable than when I say, cheerfully, “my brain has been trying to kill me since adolescence, and recently it has come quite close to succeeding”. I have a complicated relationship with my brain, you see. Growing up lonely, socially awkward and physically stunted, with a twisted spine and the real or imagined threat of bullying forever in the background, I thought that my mind was my only ally. An excellent memory and a high IQ. A gift for languages and choosing a sharp turn of phrase. These were the resources available to me, things I could fall back even if the rest of my world turned upside down in the morning. As I grew better at faking confidence, I learned that I could defuse tension with a well placed joke or comment, as long as I looked people in the eye and smiled in the right places.
I depended on my brain, and when depression and anxiety hit, when early life trauma came back for a ten year reunion, it turned on me like an abusive lover, isolating me, hurting me, undercutting every achievement with harsh criticism and bitter laughter. My inner critic, once a dependable guide on the road to academic success and a good work ethic, turned increasingly nasty. This started when I was about fifteen , and grew steadily worse until the inevitable breakdown four years later. If you’re in the mood for some misery porn, you can read all about that here- (https://meganjanestokes.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/emotional-word-vomit-or-revenge-of-the-killer-feelings-kebab/). But this isn’t a post about misery. This is a post about hope.
Because recently, ladies and gents, I’ve been content. It may be hard for some readers to grasp how much this means to me, but I it’s been five days since I thought about suicide. I haven’t felt this happy, at peace, this comfortable in my own skin for longer than I can remember. The black dog (I imagine it as a yappy, insistent little terrier) has finally taken its teeth out of my ankle for a while. Yesterday I sat out on my balcony, drinking good coffee with the sun on my face, and everything was so fucking beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I haven’t had a panic attack in over two months. I have a job. I’ve found medication and therapy that works for me, and even though I may never be totally free of my mental illnesses (genetics could see to that) I now have some pretty good weapons to fight them with.
During bleaker times, Keith was essentially my carer. He held me whenever I randomly burst into tears, tried to coax me out of bed when I was too afraid or bone-deep tired to move from the pool of blankets and sweat. He was the only one I trusted enough to let near me when the terror gripped my chest so tight I couldn’t breathe. Most of the time, he understood, and when he didn’t understand, he didn’t let his frustration overwhelm him. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love suffer and be powerless to help, and it’s not easy. The man has the patience of a saint. I’ve posted more effusive praise here (https://meganjanestokes.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/ode-to-a-great-pair-of-nuts-or-crafting-a-perfect-argument-from-shreds-of-diagnoses-poor-childhoods-and-general-neuroses/).
But now I’m feeling better, and I need to know that I can stand on my own two feet- be content to be on my own, feed myself, pay my own way. And my wonderful, caring, resilient boyfriend needs a break, having just started a career. He’s young, sharp and finally on something resembling a liveable wage. He needs to get out and have fun.
Thank you for your concern, but we’re both happier than ever.