How I spent my weekend

by Anita Gait, from Haverfordwest in Carmarthenshire, South Wales

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Shall I tell you what I’m not doing?

I’m not perched on a chair in a crowded restaurant, sipping a cocktail and gossiping with my friends. I’m not on a dance floor moving to a beat that’s more of a feeling than a sound. I’m not getting ready for a hot date. I’m not contorting my limbs in a softly lit yoga studio or running a casual 10k after work. I’m not doing that. I’m not doing anything.

It’s Saturday evening and I am in my bed, knees drawn to my chest, duvet pulled up around my ears. Noises filter in from the road outside, but inside my flat, it is quiet and still. There is no one else here to make any sounds.

I have been in this bed for twenty-four hours. I know this because of the light coming through my eyelids. It has gone dark, brightened and then dimmed again since I first lay down. That means it was twenty-four hours ago that I stopped pretending everything was ok. It was yesterday when I admitted that the darkness was seeping back in at the edges of my life. Friday evening when I gave in to the weight and crawled into bed.

At least I made it through to the weekend. At least I didn’t give up during the week and have to call in sick. Again. This time I have the entire weekend before I have to get back up and pretend to be human again. Lucky me.

 

I was lucky once, actually. I had friends, family, and a life that I loved. And I used to do all those things: gossip in restaurants, dance in bars, run, date, workout. I was that girl once, before this thing took root inside me, before my brain turned against me and I lost the ability to fight back.

Now it’s all I can do to survive, to hide here in my dark, silent flat, in my empty bed and will myself to sleep through it. In sleep, my mind can’t torture me with past mistakes, with future failures or present miseries. In sleep I don’t have to think of all the things I’m not doing, all the things I can’t do, all the ways in which I’m failing. In sleep, the time passes and I am a few hours closer to the end of this.

 

When I wake next, the light has changed again. It is bright now, Sunday morning. My bladder is painfully full. I lie still, trying to ignore the discomfort and will myself back to sleep. If I am awake this day will pass so much slower, but sleep eludes me now. I have to get up.

I climb out of the duvet, trying to ignore the smell that emanates from the bed and my unwashed self. I drop my legs off the side of the bed and lean forward, head drooping towards my chest, arms resting on my knees. After an age, I push myself up to standing. I feel dreadful. My head is thick and foggy with sleep, my mouth dry, teeth mossy. My body aches, my stomach is hollow.

I use the bathroom then drag myself to the kitchen where I open and close cupboards at random. I look at food I bought back when I was a different person. That person had planned to cook with enjoyment and eat with enthusiasm. That person is not here. This person wants only to quell the gnawing ache inside her in as few steps as possible.

I take a slice of bread out of a bag and lay it on the counter. I turn to the fridge and my eyes rest upon the collage of items that adorn its doorway. Snapshots of another life, the life I used to have. A life filled with friends and adventures. Group photos grin at me, filled with faces I never see anymore. There’s an invitation to a wedding I couldn’t make myself go to. There are lecture details, concert leaflets, gym schedules, all out of date, useless. They belong to the girl I used to be.

Ignoring the memories, I pull open the fridge door. I reach for the butter but my hand falters as I spot a wine bottle lying in wait on the top shelf. I stare at it, picture myself drinking it. If I did then this day would go faster. It would slip away, blurring at the edges as it went. If I drank it all I could fall asleep again, maybe sleep all the way through till tomorrow. I stand and I stare and I try not to reach for the bottle.

 

A metallic chirping startles me. It is my phone, abandoned on the kitchen counter since Friday evening. The screen lights up with a notification from an app I no longer use. It is nothing, but it is enough to break my eye contact with the wine bottle. I close the fridge and my eye falls instead on the wall of photos. I see my own face as it was then, happy, smiling, healthy, alive. Tears prick the back of my eyelids as my brain taunts me with how far I have fallen from that person.

The expired wedding invite has slipped sideways. As I straighten it up, it reveals a photo beneath; myself and Evie smiling, side by side, medals held out towards the camera. Our mud-streaked t-shirts proclaim ‘Strong!’ in red glitter across the chest. Evie has scrawled ‘damn right we are' in marker across the bottom of hers.

I remember that day; I remember the adrenaline and the camaraderie during the race. The money we raised and the party we had to celebrate afterwards. The memory flashes through my mind, it lifts me from the darkness for just a moment. In that second I remember something. Something my brain doesn't want me to know; I may not be the girl from that photo anymore, but Evie still is. She’s still strong, still standing beside me, still cheering me on. She is one of the few people who is. Most of my friends fell away. They disappeared when I stopped being fun, stopped being reliable, stopped being able to cope. But not Evie, she still cares. I picture what she would say if she knew I’d spent the last day and a half curled up in a pit of despair. What she would do if she knew I was losing a battle of wills with a wine bottle.

I almost smile when I think of how roundly she would scold me for not calling her. For not picking up the phone last night, or on Friday, or three days ago when I first felt what was coming. She has told me so many times to call whenever I need to. And I want to believe that she means it, I want to ask her for help, but I don’t want to be a burden to anyone other than myself. As I stand and consider this, I remember the wine. The urge to drink it, to slip back into unconsciousness, comes over me again. I lunge for my phone.

Before I can talk myself out of it, I shoot her a message. A single emoji, the one that says I’m not doing well. My phone chirps again immediately. Three emojis flash up: a heart, a dog, a coffee. My grip on the phone relaxes when I see it. She has answered, she’s not annoyed by my need, she is coming. The weight on my heart lifts just a little, and the relief I feel is enough to propel me out of the kitchen and into the bathroom.

 

I can’t manage a shower, but I wash my face, brush my teeth and pull on a collection of clean, warm clothing. I wait by my front door and my heart lifts again when Evie’s car pulls into my road.

‘Bad day?’ she asks, enveloping me in a tight hug.

I nod, unable to speak through the lump choking my throat at the sight of her.

‘Well, I’m glad you called me.’ She says and she sounds proud of my spirit. I don’t tell her how close I came to the bottom of a wine bottle.

She presses a travel mug of coffee into my hand and I take a grateful sip.

‘Ooh,’ I say in surprise as the hot, sweet liquid hits my empty stomach and warms me right through.

‘I know, right?’ says Evie with a wicked grin. ‘Latte with caramel and vanilla syrup, sometimes you’ve just got to be decadent!’

I nod my agreement, but we both know that her own mug contains only decaf black coffee, maybe herbal tea. She has made this creamy, sugary, indulgent drink for me even though her austere lifestyle prevents her from drinking it. This simple display of kindness chokes me up more. Evie notices and squeezes me again.

‘Hey now, it’s just coffee. Hop in Rogers waiting.’

She shoos me to the car and I find Roger, her scruffy mongrel, sitting on the passenger seat. He greets me by wagging his tail so hard his whole body shakes and climbs into my lap the second I sit down. I stroke his soft ears and feel the darkness recede a little.

 

Evie drives the short distance to one of our favourite walks, an hour-long loop beside a stretch of canal, beautiful at every time of year. As we walk Evie chatters about work and family and calls instructions to Roger. She does not ask me questions; she does not press me to talk, she just lets me walk and breathe, drink my sweet coffee and look at my surroundings.

A carpet of russet leaves crunch under our feet as we walk. The brown water of the canal ripples as a mallard cruises serenely by. Something darts in a tree to my right, a bird or maybe a squirrel, but by the time I turn my head it has gone. Roger leaps and bounds around, barking at shadows and pouncing on leaves. His daft antics make Evie laugh and after a wild leap that lands him in a muddy ditch, I hear my own chuckle join hers.

I feel my body stretching as we walk, the torpor slipping from my limbs. The chilly, autumn air bites my exposed skin, pinching it, waking it up. With each inhale, I feel my lungs push the weight away a fraction. On each exhale, the darkness takes a tiny step back.

By the time we return to the car, I feel almost human. I can smile at Evie and thank her for her help without choking up, without crying.

‘Any time, love.’ She says, and I don’t question that she means it.

‘See you on Tuesday?’ she asks as she pulls up at my door.

‘I’ll try.’ I say, giving the muddy Roger a last pat as I climb out of the car.

‘That’s all you can do!’ intones Evie and, blowing me a kiss, she pulls away.

I watch her leave and then turn to enter my flat. It looks different from when I left, more welcoming, less empty. I take off my coat, flick the switch on the kettle and prepare to cope with what’s left of the day.

 

Shall I tell you what I am doing?

I am stripping my bed and remaking it with clean sheets. I am showering, washing my hair, and cleansing my skin. I am listening to the radio while I make myself dinner. I am preparing for work, laying out my clothes, packing my lunch. I am making good choices. I am not letting one bad day derail my life.

It is Sunday evening and I am looking after myself, being kind to myself, counting my blessings and being grateful for my friends.

I am coping. I am surviving.

I am doing all these things.

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