The Fear of Being Alone

I am scared of being alone. I’m not just scared of the long-term-never-settling-down alone, I’m scared of just spending the night alone. Scared enough to have made a million mistakes and scared enough to make a million more. Now I’m sober, it’s harder to make those mistakes, even though sometimes, in a bizarre way, I wish I could. When I’m in a pub or a club, I look around me and I watch people hooking up, being embarrassingly forward or going home together and I know that they would be hard pushed to do something they couldn’t justify the next day. I was one of those people, I found it so easy to walk straight up to a guy at the bar or to silence someone by leaning in for a kiss. I used to ask people out or make the first move and even if it went catastrophically wrong and they said no or pulled away, I would shake it off because ‘I was drunk’, everyone would laugh about it and life would go on, even though inside I was dying of shame.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my past actions don’t get a carte blanche because I can tether them to a diagnosis. On September 24th, 2014 I had my final drink; I didn’t stop because prohibition hit or someone locked me in a room, I stopped because of voluntary actions which, by default, means I am responsible for everything that has come before this very moment.

There’s one particular memory that springs to mind about four years ago, I don’t particularly want to share this, but what with it being burned in to my retina I think it’s as good a place to start as any. It’s strange, I can feel a pressure and an emptiness in my chest whilst I’m typing. I’m sitting on my bed and I’m fighting the overwhelming urge to bury myself in the duvet, which normally means I should just get on with it… Liam, older, attractive, I barely knew him. We’d had an introduction once when I was struggling with some music and he, not knowing me and not needing to, sat and calmed me down. He had no motive other than plain and simple kindness. I think it was that modest act of compassion that piqued my interest. From a frighteningly young age I was used to both boys and men hanging around and waiting for me to get high or drunk enough to take advantage, a friend once told me how scared she was for me when the “vultures” descended. I’m not saying every guy in my life was like that, far from it, but when a girl gets in to a state as often as I did, they regularly attract the ‘undesirables’. Liam wasn’t a vulture, he wasn’t waiting for a time to strike, he was just there; he was charming, funny, not to mention he knew his way round a guitar and there lay the foundations for quite a significant crush. One evening we were in a bar, I was dangerously drunk and I don’t remember how I’d got there or what we were even talking about, but I was fascinated. I didn’t need the idea to be planted in my head, my brain just acted on impulse. I leant, or rather lurched, in to kiss him and he pulled back. The next few minutes are hazy but I remember him being, unsurprisingly, lovely about it. Instead of doing what I should have done and left, I went in for a kiss again! It was mortifying, only made worse by the calmness with which Liam dealt with the situation. A friend who saw it happen told me the next day that it was like car-crash TV and he couldn’t pull his eyes away. I think the fact that Liam had said no only made me like him more; not in a treat-them-mean-to-keep-them-keen kind of way but more of an obviously-not-just-after-one-thing way. After all, his reaction over the course of that interaction could’ve resulted in a very different outcome. After years of playing it over and wondering what it was about Liam that used to make my stomach somersault when he walked in to a bar, I have come to the conclusion it was because I thought he had all the answers. It wasn’t even deep down that I knew I was a mess. Normal people didn’t have quite so many memories of coming out of blackout at a stranger’s house, kissing someone they didn’t want to or worse, sleeping with them; friends have since told me to report one night, in particular, but the gut-wrenching reality is that I know how I used to be and I could’ve initiated everything and that man could’ve been none the wiser as to how violated and afraid I would feel when I mentally came to, mid act. I couldn’t run away from how messed up my life was and Liam had somehow begun to represent a softness, stability and safety, all things I desperately craved but feared I could never obtain. I felt alone in a self-created poison of circumstance and Liam was the antidote, he never was, of course, but I clung to that thought because it was one of the few hopes I had left.

The morning after the almost-kiss, already drinking, I was discussing how much of an idiot I was with a friend. The only way to ensure things never got spoken of again was to laugh and brand my ever-growing discretion folder with a big red-lettered stamp reading ’OVER THE LIMIT: EXCUSED’. That stamp got destroyed on the day of my last drink; now, every mistake I make, I make with a clear head, mania being the only tenuous exception. There’s a part of me inside, a part that wishes I could claim drunken oblivion and let a date get a too cosy or a first meeting get too friendly, purely because being lonely is scary. It’s an aspect of sobriety that nobody tells you about and one I find surprisingly hard to swallow. I’ve always been one to want that text, those flowers and that perfectly timed kiss, even when I’ve pretended not to care. When I drank I used to just go out and get those things myself but, looking back, none of it was real and I was just as, if not more alone than I am now.

Today I choose reality and even if this current reality is sometimes cold, it’s a much better alternative to the drama, shame and guilt that encompassed my previous existence. I’m happy to say that nowadays my life is soft, stable (enough) and safe. Yes, it would be a lie to say I don’t feel an occasional pang when I watch a cute scene on TV, see someone greet their partner or wake up alone but all of that will come with time. I am only now learning to be on my own and to exist inside my own head; It’s giving me the ability to learn who I actually am, what I like and what I don’t like, for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve just torn my eyes away from the laptop and scanned the walls of my bedroom, on which hang scores of paraphernalia, memories in frames and on scraps of paper. This is a far cry from once sitting on a bench being consoled by a friend, over having nowhere to live. I can handle being alone if being alone means getting to know myself, after all how can you be with someone if you’re incapable of knowing what you like about them?


Seeing Ghosts

Bipolar does not play by the rules. It doesn’t stick to a routine of 6 months up, 6 months down and 25 days holiday, it doesn’t cow tow to tablets strong enough to destroy fully functioning organs and it never clears on the days that you need it to. In its defence, it is ever faithful, and you can count on it arriving the moment everything crumbles to ruins. Rarely one to be perturbed by a lack of invitation, bipolar is the first to deliver its congratulations on a job, the first visitor in your new home and the first to grip your hand when you lose a loved one. Nowadays, I have reclaimed a certain amount of control through diet, exercise, sleep, sobriety, meditation and medication; whilst nothing is guaranteed the improvements are astounding. It’s not as simple as eat healthy, be stable; it’s about balancing the scales. Eat too healthily and I’ll get manic, too badly and I’ll become depressed; I have been known to sit and chomp my way through a ridiculous pile of carbs in a, successful, attempt to temporarily calm the manic storm. However, above all else, nothing, and I mean nothing, summons my demons like a lack of sleep.

Late 2014; I was sitting at my desk when I knew I had to quit my job. Edible make-up was my destiny. I wanted to hand in my notice, then and there but, luckily, I had enough sanity left to recognise my lack of finances, the fact that I knew nothing about the topic and I had no products to sell. My 9-5 took a back seat as I buried my head in as many browser tabs as I could open. Pay day wasn’t for another fortnight and so I created list after list of online shopping sites so that I could empty my purse the day it became full. It took every ounce of strength I had not to sign up for a payday loan. I was filled with limitless energy, focus and enthusiasm for my business. It was, after all, completely logical. Every cosmetic you use gets absorbed through your skin, so surely, by making them edible, it was one less way for your body to get sick, one less way for me to get sick. I’d stopped wearing make-up, I was teetering on jacking in deodorant and toothpaste and I panicked over soap. I told everyone about what they were doing to themselves and they looked at me like I was crazy. I thought it was because they couldn’t see the bigger picture, it was probably more to do with my frantic demeanour, aggressively fervent speech and impressive pallor, than can only be achieved by a redhead without foundation.

Edible make-up took up every second of every minute of every waking hour. I researched loans for small businesses, marked out my national and global competition. I scanned recipes and ingredients, mapped out my demographic and how to cater to them all. I couldn’t learn enough. There were times when I felt like my brain was splitting in two it was whirring so fast, I got so exciting I had butterflies in my chest, my heart rate was through the roof at all times and I was permanently accompanied with a nauseating sense of awe at what I was about to unleash on the world.

Two months came and went along with my desires to create a make-up empire; I was getting more and more irritable the further I slid up the mania scale. I can recall my mother leaping in front of me when I went to taste something out of a mixing bowl, ‘It has sherry in it!’ That single preventative action was pure kindness but I wanted to scream at her for being so vicious. I wasn’t sleeping, I was permanently wired and I was living off of caffeine and cigarettes. Every five seconds I would feel a wave of goosebumps that crept right up into my scalp; my nerve endings were on fire. I was fast approaching a dangerous levels of intensity and with no project to focus on, the focus became me. I had spent hundreds of pounds on cosmetics, cleaned compulsively and exercised frantically and for a brief period I toyed with becoming a personal trainer to the stars.

In January 2015 I went into anaphylactic shock (doctors say it was because of the stress of closing the door to my addictions and my mania becoming unmanageable) and having been prescribed two Epi-pens I read everything and anything I could about them and the accompanying diagnosis. A week before payday, I had spent the morning trying to find a bag that looked chic, had enough space to hold two Epi-pens and could keep the temperature regulated. Quickly realising that there was nothing for me to find I became frantic. I searched high and low, to no avail. There was barely anything the right size let alone anything stylish. It was a disaster of monumental proportions.

Every daughter promises herself she’ll never sound like her mother but I felt a whisper in my ear, “If you want something doing…” I had no choice but to exploit the niche in the market and start my journey to becoming a practical bag designer. The web browser opened, my mouse clicked and my fingers flew across the keyboard as food, sleep, friends and work took a backseat to yet another new career. I remember standing in my parents’ living room, talking ridiculously fast, maniacally fast, about how no suitable Epi-pen bag existed. I was going on and on and on until I finally mentioned that I would have to make my own and this piqued my mother’s interest. Her daughter, the entrepreneur – she loved it. We were talking over each other, we couldn’t get the words out fast enough. ‘You could put little slogans on them! Think of the colours! Waterproofs? Beach bags! You could expand for a Diabetic pouch!’ At this point we were both on our feet and were doing a strange walk and talk with no purpose except to circle round the dining room table, discussing fabrics, sewing patterns, threading technique, both of us bubbling over with ideas.

Reaching giddier heights of mania I was still blissfully unaware of how dangerous I had become but I was acutely aware of my internal discomfort. I wanted to shake everyone by the shoulders and tell them about my ideas and I was shocked and hurt when they didn’t mirror my own enthusiasm, or that of my mother’s. Although, one of the bonuses of being articulate is that when you tell everyone at work about how you are launching a range of Epi-pen bags, most of them actually take it at face value, thus narrowly evading letting the crazy out of the bag.

The time until payday was excruciating. I had picked patterns, slogans, materials, even the thermal fabric had been found. I was ready but my bank account wasn’t. The last three days stretched out in front of me like 3 years. You think I’m exaggerating but asking a manic manic depressive to wait for money is like asking a 4 year old to hold their bladder. Starts out uncomfortable, grows to be painful until they just have to go; except my version of sullying myself is running up thousands of pounds of debt.

Somehow I held steady and pay day arrived. I felt like my butterflies were going to burst out of my chest akin to Alien’s prettier siblings. I was shaking with fatigue but breathless with energy, my mind was hovering over its invisible clutch waiting to switch up a gear.

“I’m going for a scholarship at the Royal College of Music”. I clicked Buy Now and £99.37 left my account. I was to pass my A-level music in 6 months along with grade 8 in my piano, guitar and singing. I’d always wanted this, I told everyone that the reason I’d never pursued it before was because I was afraid of failure but I wasn’t afraid anymore; even I believed myself. It was fate and once again I told the world of my new way of life. My father, a musician, agreed to give me piano lessons once a week and mark my theory homework. I kept this up for five weeks before I began to lose interest and I went back to being a businesswoman with no business.It wasn’t for a few months that my mania become impossible for me to deny.

It was a normal day but I couldn’t sit still to save my life. I thought I was going to throw up if I didn’t start screaming at my desk. At one point I went and sat in the corner of the bathroom and placed my scarf over my head, staying there for about 45 minutes, not knowing what else I could do. If I moved I was going to punch something, or, worse, someone. If I spoke I was going to sing or yell or cry. In my head my thoughts were sounding more like a newborn’s babbling than an adult’s speech. I was losing it and I was in a very public environment. This time I knew I was in trouble, no amount of disassociation could bury my acknowledgment…or could it?

I stood up, dusted myself down and went to wash my hands when a light bulb went off. My brain turned down the gas so that I was no longer bubbling over and seeping on to the linoleum. The world came into focus ‘We’re in a zoo.’ I looked at my reflection, not recognising the big brown eyes staring back. ‘My God’ I saw her whisper, so quiet she could’ve been mouthing. I steadied myself against the sink, ‘That’s what ghosts are…How has everyone missed this? This is ground-breaking! I need to get out this stupid bathroom and tell the world! I can’t tell the world. I can’t tell anyone. Oh Christ, there’s no way they could handle the truth. Imagine their reaction – Oh, okay S, when people see ghosts it’s actually our alien zoo-keepers having a glitch in their “cloaking system” – No, people wouldn’t believe me because they’d just be launched into denial. I’m going to have to get us out of this mess myself.’ With that thought my back straightened, my eyes glimmered and I winked at the confident woman before she stalked out of the bathroom and back into the office, swung round her chair and sat down.

I glanced around me, everyone busying themselves with their work, ‘I would have to save them all, even the ones I didn’t like.’ As an aside, one thing that psychosis has taught me is what I would do if those we-have-24-hours-to-live scenarios happened; not very many people can say that they have readied themselves to save the world.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon writing on scraps of paper and attempting to get our zoo-keepers’ attention, without attracting the attention of my co-workers. Come 5:30 I left work with everyone else and started the journey home, still desperately racking my brain for way to communicate with our alien captors. Thirty minutes from my house and something snapped ‘Oh dear Lord you are insane.’ I was back and by some miracle I was already laughing. I told my boyfriend everything when he came over later that night, to which he chuckled, kissed me on the forehead and affectionately said “You. Are. Nuts”.

Hi. My Name’s S and I’m an Alcoholic.

Now that I’ve sat down to write, I have no clue where to start. Do I want to start at my first drink, age 7, when I tasted a thimble of Baileys and subsequently crept back in to the kitchen steal sip after sip, straight from the bottle? Do I want to start with my first depression, which albeit light, was heavy for an 8 year old? How about my first manic episode at 16, unable to sleep, eat, constantly wild-eyed? Or maybe my first psychotic episode when I began to believe I was two personalities; Max and Me (When I was out of psychosis and not talking to the “other me” in the mirror I used to use the “Max” name for confidence). Trying to pick a starting point is as frustrating as trying to narrow down five pizza toppings to four. Rarely will the answer be the right one so I’m just going to take a deep breath and jump. Continue reading “Hi. My Name’s S and I’m an Alcoholic.”