I've spoken a few times about how valuable my support network is to me. I've talked about how lucky I am to be surrounded by the many caring, supportive, emotionally mature people I have in my life. I honestly couldn't imagine how much harder it would be to live with anxiety without them. I am strong; and they give me strength. What I tend not to talk about so much is what I am missing; my mum.
Mum died when I was 19. She was 39. She was painfully, cruelly and suddenly ripped straight from this world and from my heart with it. It brought on nights of drinking and dancing away my sorrows, days of frivolous spending and months of being somehow too sad to cry. Ultimately, it cost me my University degree, as I struggled to keep up with the day to day bullshit that people (quite rightly) live with, and instead focused on something far bigger - keeping myself alive.
I vividly remember being stood in Brixton with my auntie Clare one night, worrying about some shitty argument with my then boyfriend, and her turning to me and saying "Your heart will never be broken again like it was when your mum died." And boy was she right!
The weird thing is that it doesn't make the other stuff less painful at all. My break ups stung like anyone's would, the friendships that fell apart hurt like hell and walking away from my degree tore me in two. I was 19 and I had truly had my heart broken. Somehow I had to piece myself together again, unbreak my heart, rebuild my life. Bit by bit, I did.
When I think about mental illness, the first thing I think about is Mum. She was my introduction to it. My "welcome to just how brutal life can be" module. She had Borderline Personality Disorder (Borderline between what and what, Melvin?). She told me when I was 11. I remember just nodding, with the kind of understanding and empathy that only a child can offer. She had written it in a letter (to someone else) and I read it over her shoulder. "What do you mean you're mentally ill?" I had cried out in shock.
I had seen the mentally ill on TV. I had read about them in books. I had watched them fall apart in late night films that I should never have been watching in the first place. The mentally ill should be feared, I thought; they were twisted, unpredictable, violent and cruel. My mum wasn't mentally ill; she was lovely!
And so I set out to understand. I wanted to understand so badly. I wanted to know the inside of her mind so much. I wanted to know how someone so kind, so gentle, so vulnerable and so creative could be so horribly misunderstood and misrepresented. How someone who took on the pain of the world as her own could be shunned and labeled. I set out to learn as much about her illness as I could.
Some things certainly clicked into place for me over the years. Her emotions were far more sudden and intense than those of the other people around me. When she was sad, she was sad to her very core. She could be so sad, it was almost beautiful; a deep, burning melancholy that seemed to consume her very being. For a while.
Then it would be happiness. The kind of happiness that is almost pure singing and laughter. She had a wicked sense of humour and the kind of playfulness that my friends wished their own mums commanded. She could lift the mood of the most somber occasions with a well placed (albeit probably inappropriate) joke.
And then there was the sadness again. The paranoia. The self harm. The absolute certainty that nobody really loved her. The hours of listening to the same Evanescence song.
When she was happy, we had some of the best times of my life. Memories can still totally overwhelm me in an instant, years later. Some of them absolutely magical, some completely mundane; but all of them mine. Mine and hers. They lift me, they torture me and in many ways make me who I am. And no one remembers them but me. There's something utterly romantic about that.
Sometimes the emptiness she was feeling was a darkness that engulfed me. The "alone" she could feel was confusing and overwhelming and profound and bitter and so much more. She was such a contradiction. There was so much immaturity in her behaviour, but I feel like there was a wisdom in her struggle that I'll never fully understand.
There is something mesmerising about watching someone act in a way that is totally impulsive. Pure impulse - not a second to think about the dangers or the consequences.
Of course, the dangers were there. It's what got us to where we both are today. "Misadventure" was the verdict that the coroner recorded. Me, her daughter, ever sensible, ever the concerned one, ever the adult, telling her to trust me and to stay exactly where she was. Her, my mum, waiting for the help that I sent that never showed up.
It's so so easy to dwell on the ending of a story. It's easy to cry about the sadness and think about the losses and forget about all the love, beauty and trust that there was before that.
My mum had borderline personality disorder. She was chaotic and enchanting. She was my first lesson about mental health; that every person is so much more than their symptoms. Every person is a truth. When I think of her, my heart is as full as it is broken.