“Samaritans. Can I help you?”
How had I got to this point? I have always been an incredibly optimistic and outgoing person but now I found myself having dialled the Samaritans. I had been drinking – that seemed to have become a regular occurrence – but I realised I was now at my lowest point. I was struggling to breathe as the soothing tones of the volunteer reached out to me. And when I say struggling to breathe, I was seriously in fear of my life. I had been crying for what seemed like an hour, but what had begun as a dull ache in my stomach and had moved to become a tight throat had now become all-consuming. I remember wondering if this was what a panic attack felt like but at the grand age of 46, I had never experienced one before so had no point of reference. It was so awful.
“It’s okay, take your time. I’m here when you’re ready to talk.” Her voice was so calming. She offered her name but I can’t really recall it because I felt so overwhelmed by grief and heartache but she sounded so nice.
I opened my mouth but I couldn’t speak. Instead, more wailing came out. I struggled for breath once more.
I felt so pathetic. How had I got here?
The last thing I recall before these overwhelming feelings had overrun me was sitting at the laptop trying to format yet another document for work. It had been super-crazy since this lockdown began and all learning moved online. The struggle to instruct parents through the process as well as trying to do the very basics of the job has been an incredible strain for everyone. Having the laptop and work station set up at the dining table meant there was never truly a break from work. It was too easy to just kid yourself that it would be okay to just do one more thing. Before you knew it, you hadn’t had a break all day, hadn’t eaten properly and it was time to drag yourself to bed before waking up tomorrow and doing it all again. Coupled with the fact that it was winter, all the restaurants and pubs were shut and you can’t go into other people’s houses, it became an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. All in all, not a particularly great mix for one’s mental health.
So there I was, at the end of yet another sixteen hour day, and I just remember feeling light-headed. You ever had that feeling on a really hot day when you’ve not eaten or drunk enough water? Your head starts to swim and things don’t quite make sense? Well, the words on the laptop began to swirl and I remember just thinking to myself that it would be good to rest my head on my hands and close my eyes.
It was a weird feeling, one I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid. You know when you have a bit of a fever, you drift off on the sofa, your mum’s voice is in the background, the noises from the tv swirl and mix with your dreams and you can’t quite tell what’s real and what’s your imagination? That’s what it reminded me of. My mind rushed, thoughts twisted as memories and images moved into focus.
The image is seared on my mind: she lay on the bed sobbing, I was standing in the doorway and she turned her tear-stained face towards me and told me she couldn’t go on any more. She said this wasn’t the life she wanted. The conversation had been building for a long time but I didn’t want to acknowledge what she was saying and the timing was awful. My daughter was in the next room and I was getting ready to take her to an orthodontist appointment. I had to go but here was my partner telling me she wanted our relationship to end.
I have no intention of going into personal detail in such a public forum, that would be unfair to her as she has no voice on here or opportunity to put her side of the story but we had reached the point where she was packing her clothes and possessions into bags just as I was having to leave to take my daughter to her appointment. By the time I returned she had gone. For me, there was no time for closure, no discussion. A four-year relationship was over in about three minutes with no opportunity for conversation. I had my son and daughter with me for another four days and this wasn’t a conversation I either wanted on the phone or within their earshot. I was in limbo. She text to say I can collect my things from hers on Friday evening so for four more days I had to struggle on, maintaining a pretence in front of them. Four more nights of no sleep and stress. Given the social restrictions at the time, it was difficult to deal with.
She wanted to part in a good way, on good terms and I wanted to too: I still loved her, I didn’t want to pour any more salt into open wounds. I definitely didn’t to ruin any potential opportunity for any sort of ongoing friendship for the future. What I didn’t think about was the lasting impact on me. We met on the Friday night, I tried everything to remain calm but inside, I was a mess, a total wreck. I should have used this as a chance to talk about all the things that were swimming around my head but I didn’t want to provoke any more upset. I was left with things unsaid, things that I would forever have torturing me, especially at night.
A few texts were exchanged during those awful four days. I told her that this wasn’t what I wanted and that I loved her. She replied, ‘I love you too but it’s not enough.’
‘It’s not enough.’ That phrase rang around my head for weeks to come. She was all I wanted and I felt I had poured everything into her over the last few years and here she was saying that it wasn’t enough. It felt like she was saying that I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t what she wanted. It was time for her to move on. Again, I don’t want to go into any personal details in a public place but something inside me broke and I didn’t know how to go about fixing it.
My confidence and self-belief have been slowly eroded and the weeks that followed the break up were the worst weeks of my life. Sleep went out the window and everything always seems darker with lack of sleep. I would find myself wishing I would catch the coronavirus and just submit to it. Everything had gone so wrong, my friends and family had been distanced, we were in a lockdown and couldn’t go anywhere to have a night out, work was unbelievably challenging and I had been left alone, a middle-aged man in a flat in an area I didn’t particularly want to live in and totally heartbroken.
I can only re-iterate, this was never me before this relationship. I was fun, I had a good circle of friends. I was always upbeat and able to see an optimistic future. I still maintain that appearance at work but in every other aspect of my life, I’m changed. I fought hard to re-establish contact with people I had neglected over the last four years. I needed them and I’m very fortunate that some very wonderful people responded. Those closest to me saw the change in me. One mentioned I was struggling with depression, my brother said my mum had mentioned that my spark had gone and another couple of friends (along with the Samaritans) have talked me through some very rough nights.
I felt huge embarrassment along with tremendous shame and guilt. I felt I had lost everything.
I’m not the person I was and I’m not sure I ever will be again. I was left with so much fall out to deal with that I don’t know what my future has in store. All I know today is, that thanks to the people at Samaritans, my lovely children, my family and those amazing friends who have shown up when I really needed them to, I do at least have a future. It’s not going to be the one I was planning over the last four years, but it will be something.
I do still love her. She is an amazing woman that I will never not want to celebrate; I wanted to build a life with her after all. I still find myself thinking about her. I still miss her and we did have an awful lot in common and got on so well. She is moving on to other things, I need to as well. After a hugely traumatic experience though, that’s sometimes easier said than done and I have to have faith that a new future is lying out there waiting for me. It’s my choices that will decide what that future looks like.
My first step, trying to own this mess. Trying to speak out and let others know that it’s ok to discuss feelings. Don’t hide away from your thoughts. Don’t shy away from what’s affecting you. Speak up. Reach out. Talk.