The Little, Yellow Cat

The oversized chandelier, ornate bathrooms and servants’ quarters on the third floor didn’t quite match the nicotine stained walls, broken window frames and three write-off cars that lay in the driveway. The house had a tragic beauty to it that, at the time, I adored. I was a 20-a-day smoker and whilst I never really liked using the stuff, I loved the smell of weed, so it made no odds to me that my new housemates, new landlord and even my new walls reeked of the stuff. I’d found the house on a spare room website and had made up my mind, before I even arrived, that I’d take it. The location was great, the room was huge and a large portion of my housemates were musicians; the pièce de résistance was discovering that they actively encouraged me to make as much noise as possible. The Grade II listed property, once a place of un-rivalled charm, had been run down over the last decade; there was subsidence towards the back and missing tiles at the front; the windows had no double glazing and the basement flooded, however, with all its faults and for all the times I and my housemates would moan, we loved the place. The manor pulled you in and had a way of making you fall in love and nothing seemed to be able to stand in its way.

On the day I moved in, I let my bag thump to the floor of the hallway, half of the contents instantly sprawled across the floor. Catching something in my peripheral, I looked up and there, sitting quite majestically, atop the wooden radiator cover, was a little, yellow cat, who I later found out was called Sub. Just like the rest of the house she, too, had been tinted with the smoke that billowed from bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. I instantly went to say hello. Moving as slowly as I could, with my hand out stretched, I barely got halfway across the distance between us before she bolted for the door. Every day we would follow the same routine; she would set up camp and wait for me to see her, I would try to make contact and she’d run. She only really got on with Jonathan, I know you shouldn’t have favourites but I completely understood why that particular housemate was hers. I quickly grew to be openly jealous of the affection that she showed him; I loved cats and she was terrified of me, I reminded myself not to take it personally, after all, she ran from most people.

She’d been brought to the manor, with her sister, by an ex-tenant, who, upon leaving, had left the pair behind. Her sister had been re-homed, leaving Sub on her own, she was petrified of the next door neighbour’s cat but that didn’t stop her spending most of her life outdoors. It didn’t help that the manor was an abrasive environment. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t an immoral disposition in sight, but there also wasn’t a clean, sober or sensible person among us. With a cocaine dealer in-house and a weed dealer who visited regularly we were a far cry from your perfect neighbours; parties would go on for days, sometimes stretching a week, and the base would shake every pane of glass in the house. Sub, as a result, would disappear for an impossible amount of time and return with a couple of extra ribs showing.  Jonathan would feed her but she never kept the weight on and she had a permanent, unhealthy, greasiness to her coat. Things took a turn for the worse when Jonathon left and not long after, the dog arrived; whilst he was adorable with humans, he would chase her across the garden and back the moment they locked eyes. She was withdrawn, miserable and jumpy; sometimes I felt like she was living the cat version of my life except she got more sleep.

I was still at the manor house when I got sober. My room got cleared of alcohol, it was no longer frequented with strangers lolling on the floor or snorting God-know-what off of my dresser. It became my safe-haven, I filled it with candles, cushions, I cleaned it within an inch of its life and regularly aired it out; I even gave it a lick of paint. It didn’t smell of cigarettes anymore and when I shut the door, bar the vibrations, you could be forgiven for thinking I was the only one home. Sub wanted in. She would appear, mewing at my door, whenever they upped the volume. She’d take refuge on my bed, in the warm, quiet and clean aired space and I would join her. She was my companion in the evenings, before I could trust myself enough to go out. If my boyfriend wasn’t busy, she was happy to third wheel. Over time and with a lot of ice cream-based-bribery she began to let me hold her, pick her up and give her a proper cuddle; as her hard shell softened to me as did mine to the world in general. On days when I was struggling I would think about getting home to her, I would spend money on cat treats instead of booze, if I wanted to go downstairs and join the party I would make myself feel guilty for contemplating leaving her all on her own and if I had a craving for alcohol, I would think how much Sub would lose if I went back out there.

When the time came for me to move I knew I couldn’t leave her. Luckily my Landlord had no problems with a cat-free home. My friend and I picked a house that had a garden, specifically for her, it was surrounded by space and I knew she’d love it. We moved in April and by summer, Sub had lost all the yellow from her coat. She is no longer slick and greasy but white and fluffy and nowadays, she’s capable of inflicting snow-blindness when she lounges in the sunshine. Jonathon has come to visit us in our new home and even he can’t believe it’s the same cat; she’s forgotten all about her outdoor ways just as I have forgotten mine; she couldn’t teach you to hunt any more than I could tell you how much a double at the local costs. Sub epitomises my recovery and how I feel inside; she no longer runs and hides from people, she’s still and calm and happy, if, perhaps, a little spoilt.

When I’m struggling, I think of her, I’ll seek her out, sit, fuss her and give her a quick health check and remind myself that whilst she played a massive part in saving my life I think I might have saved hers.

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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”.