No one can fix this mess… Maybe it’s reasonable to cry… Maybe being one of many helpline callers tonight is a sign that this crisis is a big one.

TW: Self Harm

Heather‘s #MadCovidDiaries 27.5.2020 

I’ve been crying for an hour by the time I make the call. People say crying is therapeutic, like a flash storm – it’s a sudden spurt of emotion that clears all the cobwebs away. I’ve been sat, fully dressed in the empty bath tub alone for an hour and each sob piles atop the last, until I worry I can’t get out from under the weight of the pain. One of my selves is watching me with disgust she sits at the tap end.

I think of the graph my psychologist drew, the emotion rising and falling, it’s taken years to trust that she was showing me something true and then I remember that she left in January for a new job. I miss her so much. Don’t ask for the moon, we’ll always have the graph. More tears. The voices in my head clamour in to feast on my sadness; ever the creatures of habit, they suggest self harm. It’s their favourite method of cruising over the the top of grief. We can flatten that curve until I am nice and numb. After all, in these uncertain times – empty bathtub hysterical times – who could blame us for skipping this stupid emotion?

The dial tone gives way to ringing. This, I remind us, is a brand new NHS Trust helpline. It’s a new chance to get dismissed by a new harassed member of staff! I have a crisis line voice for times like these. The trick is to stay on point. The point can be of the ‘I’m-staring-into-the-abyss’ sort but there needs to be a clear point. When I witter, the vulnerable bits of me come out and one harsh reply will decimate them. When I witter, crisis workers get bored. No one likes a screamer, a drama queen, a snotty weeper. 

I used to work a temp job at a debt collection call centre once. Amongst the ragers and the daytime masturbators, I’d get the desperate folks, a little too proud to cry but you could hear their pain. I resolved not to interrupt those people. I let the phone stats rack up and the manager fume while those callers found the words they needed. The least I could do is not hurry their humiliation. You don’t kick a man when he’s already down.

The staff member who answers is kind. He is happy to listen to some sobbing before he takes my name and address but no other details. It feels a little wrong not to flag up my diagnosis but he doesn’t ask. He seems unconcerned that he might be talking to the kind of soul sucking ‘cluster B’ that crisis workers usually recoil from. 

He offers no ‘hot milk and a walk’ platitudes at all. It’s a bit eerie but I give him a chance. I tell him about the masks and gloves at the supermarket; how it makes me miss my mum and my psychologist is gone and everyone is dying and I can’t stop the dying and so I’m worthless. I’m pretty sure he’ll suggest a deep breathing. Any minute now. The moment he suggests a bath, I’ll know he’s a lost cause, because I’m sat in one already, it’s not even full and it’s making me feel worse.

The man listens and we talk about worthlessness a little bit. No one can fix this mess, maybe it’s not about worth. Maybe it’s reasonable to cry, he suggests.  Maybe being one of many callers tonight is a sign that this crisis is a big one that we all bear as best we can. 

Suffering, I remember is from the latin to bear up under. My sobs pile up sometimes. Maybe we need to witter a little and be heard.  I tell him that I’m doing what normally helps but I’m really fecking sad.  Thoughtfully he suggests that maybe we can’t flatten a curve any more than we are doing because we’re already doing our best. This feels like a true thing to hear said out loud, like that old graph I’ve been clinging to, inside me something unclenches. 

If you feel bad later, you can ring us again, anytime. He says. I believe him and I find that I’m a little calmer. Hanging up, I realise my eyes are sore. Maybe, just maybe,  I might actually run a bath.

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