The Lavender Row
I Didn't Make it Onto The Boat
During one of my weekly student association meetings, I found out about the boat party the school was organising for the last weekend of module C (the academic year is split up into 5 modules). It would be the last time before graduation, that all students on the London campus, would have a chance to celebrate before many rotate for the remaining two modules. It sounded amazing and I made sure my schedule would be clear for that weekend. My usual flights to Switzerland or Denmark, and shenanigans with my non-hult friends would be put on standby. I was going to sip champagne with my fellow Hult friends, as a boat cruised down the Thames. I even bought a dress for the occasion. About 3 hours ago the boat set off, but I’m not on the boat. I’m in Switzerland, in my sweatpants, sitting with a snoring Bubbles (my French Bulldog) in front of the TV, watching people get liposuction.
Last Sunday, I woke up at 10:30am; the previous night’s makeup remarkably still intact, and still wearing the bright yellow floral dress. I got out of bed, washed my face, bought an iced chai latte, then I filmed the last few parts for an individual assignment due at 5pm that day. At 2:59pm I started uploading it to YouTube and about 10 seconds later I was a sobbing, inconsolable mess. Where I’ve always been able to see the future, I suddenly couldn’t imagine any. The three new songs that I’m working on and will be released later this year, ignited no passion, the trip to the Maldives next week (my absolute favourite place on earth) generated no happiness – and that was a first, the fact that I’ll graduate with a masters in August? Nada. All the feelings I’ve felt over the past few months collided into one big mess that there was nothing left to feel, just numbness. I’ve only felt this way once before, and that’s when I was 19 and hospitalised for being suicidal. At 5:45pm I was brought to St. Thomas’ Hospital emergency room by my close friend Myles, seeking help for suicide thoughts.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I can remember. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve not felt “right”. It’s as if a piece of cling-film separates me from others. I can see them clearly, hear them clearly, yet there is still a small divide. I realised something was wrong when I was 13 years old, standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. This amazing moment, was met by nothing. As I called my dad and my sister from the top of Uhuru peak, as the Israeli son and father who had followed me throughout the days applauded me, and as my Swiss guide who had led me up on his 16th expedition on Kilimanjaro, hugged me and cried; I felt nothing. I had set out to raise money for Progeria for my 8th grade personal project, and people sponsored me to hit 5000m altitude. I went on to summit it officially at Gillman’s point, where my uncle and mum went back down due to altitude sickness, and I continued on by myself with the Swiss guide and local Tanzanian guide. It was supposed to be a big moment, but I felt nothing. And that really alarmed me.
Back then social media didn’t exist, and no one spoke about anxiety and depression, so I didn’t understand what was happening. Not long after Kilimanjaro I developed an eating disorder. Fast forward three years and I got myself into a psychologically abusive relationship. If hell exists, this was a tier below it. The relationship completely destroyed me. Couple it with an already sensitive me, it was the perfect storm. Unsurprisingly, I ended up in a psychiatric clinic just before turning 20. I was admitted for being suicidal. Over the years I’ve worked very hard at understanding my brain, why I react the way I do, identifying my triggers, and creating action plans to stop myself from falling apart. I still go to therapy and up until about two months ago, it was just maintenance. I was on a good path and didn’t want to veer. In November 2016, I had completed an Ayurvedic trip in India which turned my life around, and for the first time in my life I was actually happy. Because of this trip’s success, I was able to confidently sign up for my master degree in London. My first time living in London in 2010 was at the pinnacle of my first full blown depression, but now I felt good, and I knew this time it would be different.
I don’t really know where things started to unravel, but at some point the anxiety attacks started coming back. During the day, often while at school, I started getting random waves of intense sadness. I guess I ignored it for two reasons 1. I am so busy, it’s insane 2. I don’t want it to be happening. So I pushed on, gaining more speed with every commitment, until I crashed.
The night before I broke down, I had been at a TEDx event my school had organised (a post will be dedicated to this amazing event). It took place on top of the 45th floor of the “cheese grater” building in London. As I stood at the top, I was unafraid of the height, and there was a persistent thought “what if you threw yourself off the building?”. Clearly not a normal thought, but thoughts that are nonetheless not foreign to me. I wore a bright yellow floral dress and red shoes; I can’t help but note the stark contrast in my attire that Saturday and the thoughts. Ironically, one of the speakers at the event talked about mental health; she showed an image of how much funding mental health gets in the UK compared to dementia and cancer (see image). Less than 24 hours later I would experience the effect of such little funding.
I was processed pretty quickly at St. Thomas’, Myles holding my hand every step of the way and being my voice and reason, because my mind was numb, and I was incapable of making decisions. We arrived just before 6pm. At 7:30pm, a man from the psychiatric ward came and said that at 9pm the day shift ended and the night shift would start; it would be better if someone from the night shift saw me so that I didn’t risk having to change personnel in the midst of it all. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I didn’t mind having a chance to go get food. When I came back just before 9pm (Myles still with me), I was antsy. I’d been crying all day, and I was aching for help. A young man from the psychiatric department came to talk to me. I’ve been through this before and I know that the more detail I give, the easier it is to help me. I gave my mental health history, I talked about my history of self-harm, I answered the question in detail about wanting to commit suicide and how I planned to do it. The young man was honest and said NHS cuts had affected the mental health department. It made no sense to admit me to the ward because it tended to be violent so it would be counterproductive to my current state. And there was no other place to admit me because it was a Sunday. I was also asked how long I had been in the room. “4 hours” Myles replied. The young man said that usually after 4 hours the room has to be freed up. I felt like I had just been ruthlessly honest, only to be told I was occupying a room for too long. Probably seeing the angst in my face, the young man said he would try to find a private room for me to collect my thoughts in as I made a decision as to what to do. He came back and informed me that the private rooms were for people with medical conditions.
I am very lucky that I have an amazing support system in situations like this, because that response wouldn’t have boded well if no one had been there to help me because I was in no state to be alone. Having support is vital. As soon as I had started uploading my assignment to YouTube I called my mum. Both her and my sister booked flights to London as soon as they had talked to me on the phone, recognizing the pain as that from when I was 19. My sister was the one who sent Myles my way. Luckily my mum and sister weren’t far away with the taxi so they picked us up from the hospital and we went back to my flat.
With support from classmates and the school, I flew to Switzerland with my mum Monday morning, to see the doctor who has known me since I was 4. He took some blood tests to check I wasn’t low on anything, he said it would be an easy fix if it was. Unfortunately, it’s just my brain; my blood work came back showing I’m a physically fit human being. I was sent to the psychiatrist and my usual anti-depressant medication has been increased as well as some benzodiazepine to help me get through the next week. I don’t like being on medication and I am determined one day to be off of it, but for now there’s not much room for experimentation. Switzerland is home, and removing myself from the stressful situation worked. If there’s a sure-fire way to whack me back on track, it’s to let me walk in the mountains and be with my dogs Bubbles and Buller.
Depression and anxiety isn’t fun. It’s hard work and I personally think it’s important to have a contingency plan when rainy Sundays happen. Who can you call? Who do you trust can help you? How do you remove yourself safely from the situation? As the years have gone by, these circumstances don’t happen as often, and when they do occur I pick myself up quicker than the previous time. It gets easier. Having depression and anxiety doesn’t mean you’re not capable. Like many others I’ve met suffering from anxiety and depression, I am my own worst critic and a perfectionist in many ways. Back when I was hospitalised, the psychiatrist told me I had to start being okay with not being able to be a master in all areas of life.
Of course in situations like Sunday, I’d love to switch brains with someone, but on the whole I don’t mind. Even though I feel so intensely, it goes both ways; I don’t just see dark colours but on my good days I see the world in a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour. Without my mental health struggle I wouldn’t be writing lyrics and producing music; and that’s one of my greatest joys in life. My only worry is that people think people with mental health issues are incapable of hard work. I think I can rather confidently say, that if any of my peers, or anyone who has worked with me is reading this, they can vouch for me that I work hard, meet deadlines and am usually a pleasant human being to be around. I do however struggle with my noggin’ now and again. I of course also worry about my future in terms of finding a husband who’ll stick around, and want to have kids with me…and when I do have kids, please don’t give them my genes.
So I didn’t make it on the boat, because I was in the midst of a contingency plan. And while I wasn’t breathing in London smog from a boat, I was breathing in the occasional fart from Bubbles, and that’s kind of the same thing isn’t it?