Sometimes I go for a day out. It’s nice to get a day off from being depressed. And it’s nice to be in a place where nobody knows me. I’m not the ill person. I could be anyone.
One of my favourite things to do is people-watching. I like making up backstories to them and even though I’ll never know how right I was, I enjoy the possibility that I might have been either completely right or totally wrong.
I also enjoy the possibility of thinking which one of the people passing by the cafe window has either suffered or is suffering from mental health difficulties.
Maybe it’s that guy facetiming someone on his phone as he walks, that lady holding a child in each hand, or maybe that young girl who is walking down the street with her friend, giggling?
There is no way of knowing and it’s both comforting and sad at the same time. No-one would know.
Before I arrived to the cafe, I took a cab to the train station. I’m wearing a dress with stripy tights. As I get money out of my purse, the taxi driver suddenly asks: “Is that a pattern or have you been cutting yourself?”
He laughs loudly and mimics cutting against his thigh in case I got it wrong. I’m so stunned I can’t get a word out. It’s such an unbelievable thing to say. I don’t really reply apart from a noncommittal noise, I just pay him and get out of the car.
I don’t really know how to feel. The first reaction is bafflement. How does anyone think that a joke like that is OK? On the mental health awareness week as well. He might have even heard someone talking about cutting this week and turned it to his personal joke material. I make cutting jokes sometime but with closest friends only. I wouldn’t dream of making that joke with a stranger with no idea of their background.
The second reaction is sorrow. He must’ve made that joke because he felt like it was a safe bet. I didn’t look like I would cut myself. I could’ve just showed my faint scars and said: “Nah mate, I cut my arm.”
But that would’ve required me to confess something deeply personal to a person who clearly doesn’t have much sympathy for those having a hard time with their mental health. He might’ve been embarrassed and learnt his lesson but is it my job to start educating every ill-educated taxi driver who comes along? Is this what my life is now?
I’m not ashamed and never will be for being ill but also this would’ve changed this person’s perception of me. I don’t want him to make me a part of his personal comedy routine material. And at the same time I’m annoyed with myself for not just showing him my arm and shutting him up as I very much live by the idea that nothing changes unless someone does the awkward thing and talks about it.
Also I had wanted to just forget myself for the day: have a nice wander around the city centre, have coffee, go to listen to a couple of interesting lectures and have dinner afterwards. Now I can’t help glancing at my arm on the train.
I end up having a nice day regardless. When I sit down on the train seat again with my belly full of delicious noodle soup, I feel quite serene. I almost fall asleep but force myself to stay awake when we arrive to the station before mine. I look out from the window to avoid falling asleep.
Then I see it. The scene.
When I tried to kill myself by being run over by a train, I had a very specific spot in mind where I wanted to be. This is the place. I don’t want to tell exactly where it is so that I can keep it as my own, and also to avoid tarnishing it to people who care about me.
It’s still breathtaking. Majestic high fells and a waterfall trickling down its side. Now that we’re approaching what could have been the first anniversary of my death, the place looks very much the same when I chose it. The grass is as green as green can be green, and big leafy trees guard the train track. I can’t hear it through the window but I know the leaves are rustling.
It makes me smile, because the place is much further away from the station than I thought. At the time it seemed like only a short walk away by the railway line but in reality it’s over a ten minute train ride. I would’ve never made it all the way over undetected. That goes to show you just how much depression clouds your perception of things.
Maybe I would’ve gotten tired and just laid down on the tracks halfway to the spot but I remember how keen I was for it to be here. I wanted to see this place one last time. That was my own dying wish. I couldn’t ask anyone to accompany me or to wave me off but I could do this one last thing for myself.
I look at the scenery. Really, really look. I can understand why I chose it. It’s breathtaking. I have always loved dramatic sights. Slate mountains of North Wales, fells, ancient woods and evergreen forests that look down on you like the trees were gods. Even though I no longer want to die, I would still agree that it would be a nice place to see as your last in this world.
Then I get a memory.
My mum is visiting. We’re returning home from a day out. We must’ve been really close to this spot actually, when the young man came up. I told her about a boy who I saw years and years ago while I was still living in Finland as the train was about to arrive at the central station. I saw him walking next to the direction where we had just come from. He didn’t look distressed. I saw his face. He looked really calm.
I told a member of staff. I noticed him because he was wearing all whites: a white tracksuit top, white tracksuit bottoms, white trainers. He looked like an epiphany. He was carrying a black overhaul bag.
“Did he look like he was about to jump in front of one?”
“I don’t know,” I said, maybe fourteen at the time. “He was wearing tidy clothes.”
“OK, we will have a look. Thank you for telling us.”
I remember anxiously going over the next day’s paper to see was there any news of a person dying at a train incident. I couldn’t find any so they must’ve caught him on time. I might have saved his life.
Now thinking back my attitude was similar to that taxi driver’s. This person didn’t look like who I would associate with mental illness. Even though only young girl at the time, I must’ve expected a suicidal person to be unkempt and teary. Now that I have tried to take my own life, I know that his calm attitude is not that unusual. You have made your choice and are about to be relieved from pain. Why wouldn’t you feel calm?
After the story there is a short pause.
“But I’m still here,” I say.
“Yes you are, thank God,” my mum replies and takes a hold of my hand. We both look ahead.
“No my darling, you don’t have to apologise. There is nothing to be sorry about.”
“I was just in so much pain.”
She strokes my hand with her thumb. Her hand is warm and dry and safe. We quietly hold hands until we reach our station. We haven’t spoken about it since. My mother.
But I don’t want to leave this on a sad note. This is a happy post. In a way.
I step out onto the platform and into a cloud of scents. Flowering trees and grass on a summer’s evening. The sun is still out and is enveloping the evening in its calm, dream-like milky light. There are bluebells growing at the edge of a wood. A few birds still sing.
And I’m alive.