Sitting with Ghosts
It was Friday 19th March 2004 as I got home from a day at sixth form, I put on my “cosy clothes” - grey tracksuit bottoms and an oversized racing green GAP fleece jumper. I picked up my mobile and tried to call my boyfriend J, again - “welcome to the 02 messaging service. The person you are calling is unable to take your call. Please leave a message after the tone...” Nothing all day, no texts, no dial tone, just straight to voicemail. I turned the shower on and my phone started ringing. It was J’s brother M.
M: J’s had a car accident
My first thought was a broken leg, which in microseconds changed to panic and tears as I re-heard the words and M’s shaking voice.
M: It’s serious, he is at the London neurology hospital. Mum thinks you should come. Don’t worry it will be ok.
I got straight on the phone to my mum, who is a nurse and had also worked in A&E. When I said neurology she hung up, came straight home and we got on the tube to the hospital. It was on the tube that she revealed J may not be conscious, a thought that hadn't even entered my mind.
He wasn't awake, he was in a coma with severe trauma to the brain. His dad wanted me to talk to him but I couldn't. I couldn't think of any words to say, all I could do was sit and hold his hand. I sat and watched the monitors.
I held on tight and fell asleep with my head on his legs, every time I thought about what was going on I had to run to the toilet to be sick.
"Everyone held on while I took a step back, he had gone hours before, which I felt."
22 hours later, the whole family and I gathered around his bed after the decision to turn off the life support machine was made. Everyone held on while I took a step back, he had gone hours before, which I felt.
The next few days and weeks were different from anything I had ever experienced before. I cried, I broke down, I got angry, I sat my A levels, I visited the cemetery every day, I wrote J letters, I slept, I stayed awake, I started to cut myself to ease the pain and then I ran. I got on a plane and went away. I went abroad on various holidays for four months and then started uni. The pain of sitting with the loss was too much and I did everything to push it back. Holidays, university, sleeping, working, partying, graduating, working, working, working. Never allowing myself to stop.
Over the years my mental health has deteriorated and even physically reacted to the grief that I wasn't allowing my brain to deal with, throwing up in the early hours of the morning, being sick while cleaning my teeth, rashes, pulling out my eyebrows and losing my period for 10 years. I’ve been through numerous therapists never lasting more than three sessions. Just the perfect amount of time for things to get hard and emotions to be pushed.
The biggest thing affected has been my romantic relationship, I've never been able to hold one down since. In 2019 I reached one of the lowest moments of my life. Perhaps a nervous breakdown. I was lucky enough to have a huge support system and one incredible person who got me back to therapy. I did 28 days straight of therapy over Christmas and New Years and now I am almost three months into one to one therapy.
"I have been so scared to fully commit to anyone for the fear of losing someone I love again, instead, I end up running away and losing them anyway... and so the cycle continues."
I’ve been told I’m codependent, have Borderline Personality Disorder and someone even suggested a love addiction, but what I have finally learnt through all of this is that it’s now about the labels but that I’ve never allowed myself to sit with any uncomfortable feeling. No feelings of sadness and pain. I have pushed it to the back and busied myself and it has held me back in almost every aspect of my life especially in romantic relationships. I have been so scared to fully commit to anyone for the fear of losing someone I love again, instead, I end up running away and losing them anyway... and so the cycle continues.Covid-19 has forced all of us to sit with ourselves. There is only so much we can do stuck in our homes to take our mind off our truest feelings. The lockdown has been hard for us all but to take a positive from it, I’ve had to sit with the hard emotions for the first time in 16 years and it has, for lack of a better word, sucked. It has been unbelievably hard and I am forever thankful to the people who have been there to support me during it. I am now in a place, for the first time, to confront the ghosts and (hopefully) be able to live a free life where I'm not held back by fear.
Written by Paula Haydock