The Pain of Remembrance
The day before yesterday I was ready to throw in the towel and go back to Brighton; back to my cosy flat where I don’t have to plan where I’m going to sleep, or shower, or get water from (I’m living in my van for a couple of weeks whilst visiting university in person). It got too hard, especially when Boris Johnson announced new Covid-related restrictions. As I sat in the university library trying to work out how the new restrictions would affect me, I felt horribly alone.
My funk had started the day before after a lovely day out discovering the local area. In the afternoon it hit me that in two days it would be the anniversary of my dad’s suicide. Coupled with this thought, a friend’s joking comparison of me to Maggie Smith’s character in Lady in the Van (2015) began to really bother me. That lady was sad, lonely, dirty and smelly. Is that how my friend saw me? I reached out to friends sharing my loneliness and fears and they gave me word hugs and refuted my fears.
My mood stayed flat. Yesterday, 13th October, I woke in my van at Sollom, a beautiful place by the canal, and got dressed. I made breakfast and wrote about my despair in my journal:
I’m so tired of battling on! I can’t do it any more.”
The Affect of the Kindness of Strangers
I cried and cried. I was physically tired – two cars of people had come to the quiet place of Sollom at 2am in the night and woke me up, slamming doors and talking, and who knows what else? I was going to complain about this in my journal when a man and his dog stopped by. I still had tears on my face and he either didn’t see or chose not to mention them. He asked me about the van and life in general. He told me where he’d gone to university, back in the day, and that he walked the whole of the Southern coast from Minehead, but didn’t get as far as Brighton. It took him and his friend fourteen years at a rate of four days every May. We talked about Covid and what’s “normal” anyway? And we recognised that Rosie the dog had no clue about Covid. All she knew was walks, food and human love.
When we said goodbye I noticed my despair had vanished! I washed up, closed my doors and got into bed, where I could keep warm (like the lady in the van!). I began drawing (see image above) and noticed the dots gravitate to the lines and despair is like that – it takes thoughts and makes them heavy and sticky, creating a shape that weighs me down. The kindness of strangers can halt it. I’m thankful for that man stopping to say hello.
My Father’s Suicide
“I’m so tired of battling on!” is an interesting phrase. My father was a soldier and I guess he got tired of battling on. I don’t think there is just one reason why someone kills themself. I think it’s a culmination of different forces and the pain of that combination feels unbearable. On the day my father decided to kill himself, he visited my Auntie Sue but she wasn’t in. He told my cousin to say he’d stopped by and then he drove to the woods, connected a hosepipe to the exhaust of his new Toyota Celica and got into the car. The headlights were on when he was found, dead. Why did he leave the headlights on? I’ll never know.
The Healing Power of Connection
What I do know is he didn’t talk to anyone about how he was (not) feeling. He couldn’t. He had to ‘be a man’ and talking about feelings was not acceptable for soldiers in 1980. I feel glad to have many friends I can reach out to and who are kind and empathic. Without them I might follow in my father’s footsteps; I think there is a tendency there to spiral down and that is why connection is so important. Connection with friends and with strangers can help so much.
The Funk Lifts
I spent most of the day in bed yesterday. Then I decided to get up and go to the library. I promptly locked my keys in the van. After phoning the breakdown rescue number I found a spot to stand where the wind’s fingers couldn’t reach me and I continued to draw, hoping the ominous clouds wouldn’t start to leak. My friendly, kind rescuer arrived and broke into the van; I was so grateful to get into my tiny home again. I drove to Ormskirk feeling energetic and happy again – back to my normal self. It’s so strange. The funk that had laid itself on my shoulders two days before had lifted.