It was November last year, I was planning to return to the world of work after a long period of slowing down after a particularly bad summer burnout.
There were just four days left before I was due to emigrate, temporarily, to start a new and exciting job. I had not struggled with this daunting task at all; I was crazily excited, maniac in my detailed preparations and packing for my new life on the continent.
There were just four days, four lonely weekdays left and for some reason I had chosen to spend them alone in my parents’ home.
HOME ALONE: LOST IN MY THOUGHTS
Well, not completely alone. An old fat cat I had brought home as a kitten when I was 13 still dominated the windowsills and the cosy spaces below the warm radiators, and an excitable puppy were in the house whilst the parents were away at their desks during the day.
I’ve never been one to watch TV so when the radio wasn’t on, the house would fall silent as I read novels interrupted only occasionally by the neighbours slamming a door or the dog begging for food.
The first day was spent sleeping. I had enjoyed the wild ride of a productive manic phase and wasn’t yet slumping into a depression but I was physically exhausted. Not sleeping for days whilst I researched what my new life would look like had taken its toll.
I had the blood shot eyes and the eye twitch, my teeth ached where I had been grinding my jaw and my muscles ached from lack of rest. But after 24 hours in bed I felt recovered.
The second day was spent dog walking, dancing to the radio, eating pasta, reading easy young adult fiction and binge watching Liza Koshy on Youtube.
The third day, a strange feeling began bubbling in my belly. I breakfasted with my mother (not unusual), a breakfast of toast and jam (also not unusual), and when she shut the front door to return to her world of paperwork and office banter I was suddenly overwhelmed with a dreaded anxiety of feeling watched, feeling monitored and worse, feeling at risk of torture and death.
I was convinced that there were spies outside ready to shoot me with snipers trained on my forehead....
I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU, MR BOND
My imagination was going wild with the James Bond-esque possibilities of how this day would pan-out. This was certainly not usual and this was definitely not fun.
I span 360, too quick to check the windows and doors were shut, more to self soothe than anything else, then I dropped to the floor and began to army crawl across the kitchen. My imagination made this real, I was in for the long ride and I was not prepared.
Mental illness can make you think and behave differently, and I suppose the only reason they are considered an illness and not a superpower is because we haven’t learnt how to use this ‘illness’ in a productive way.
Looking back now, I can see how my vivid imagination could have planned a great novel or written a film script that day but for reasons only the deepest and darkest realms of my brain will know, my mind decided to play out a long battle.
In the kitchen, crawling on my belly across the cold tiles, I pull out my old wok from uni and then stretch my arm up to fumble around in the top drawer until I find my weapon of choice, a breadknife.
I spend about forty minutes debating with myself whether to shut the curtains or not, because bullets can go through curtains and I’d rather see a gunman than just feel a bullet. It was also cold and November and I sort of wanted the sun to warm up these freezing tiles I was scooting around on.
And then, for the next eight hours I continued to live this fantasy – breadknife in hand, wok on head.
Later, a headtorch is found, and bright green knee pads from my roller-skating days are donned. I’m in my pyjamas the whole time, scurrying between doorways, and whispering to myself.
If anyone was watching it might’ve looked a little funny, but, oh my, the panic when the post came.
UNDER SIEGE: THE KITCHEN EDITION
I turned feral. Completely wild. I had no way of snapping myself out of this anxious, manic and unrealistic life. What was my mind creating? Why was my brain allowing this? Why the fear, so much fear and panic.
Eight hours after this all began, I’m curled up in the M position in the doorway to the upstairs toilet, a room I had decided would be the safest due to its position to the staircase and lack of windows.
I hear a key in the front door, the lock turn and footsteps enter the building and begin to climb the stairs. Breadknife poised, I hold my breath. ‘This is the moment I will die’ and there my mother appears ready to unzip her trousers to take a post-work pee. She looks at me, jaw agape, not even concerned about the knife or the wok on my head and bursts into hysterical laughter.
Within seconds my shoulders drop, the knife is put down, knee pads unstrapped, and head torch removed. I appear to relax into normal home-environment (no spies) in less than a minute.
‘What were you playing?’ she asks, as if I’m a toddler. ‘Nothing’ I reply and proceed to make a stir fry.
For me, my mental illness presents itself differently whenever it wants. I regularly have long manic phases lasting days although they feel productive and useful, if exhausting. I also have my down moments and am sometimes riddled with anxiety.
Normally, my anxiety builds up throughout the days that I can pretend to hold together until it erupts at night and I begin to worry, cry, shake and scream.
A sleepless night can be a catastrophic event in my life where my anxiety will have emailed my boss to quit my job or broken up with my boyfriend over a text for no reason.
This day, I felt a strange physical feeling brewing from the morning and my imagination and panic allowed it grow and manifest into ridiculous behaviour.
Luckily, I had nothing better to do than pretend I was the love child of Lara Croft and James Bond. The stir-fry tasted nice though, maybe a little salty.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
Mental illness can present itself at any time, anywhere; however it wants. Just the day earlier I had been happily dancing around the kitchen, and the day before that enjoying some self-care with an all-day nap. I have no idea what brought it on and why I felt so unsafe, but I did.
Most of us, most of the time, will work hard to stay alive. I genuinely believed I was under threat and spent a whole day crawling on the floor ready to use kitchen utensils as weapons. Despite previous history of suicidal ideation, without even considering it, I’d turned into a character Angelina Jolie would have been proud of.
Laughter can cure a lot. Hearing and seeing my mum spit out a bellowing laugh when she caught me immediately snapped me out of my ridiculous episode. Now, I regularly laugh about that day too.
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