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Phase

May 2019. I’m in the midst of the most frightening, debilitating anxiety attack. Indeed, it could be interpreted as an existential panic attack, in that I can’t tell if everything I’m seeing and doing is real or imaginary. I feel as if I’m watching myself from outside my body. I’m only 50% sure that this isn’t a ‘near death experience’. I’m watching this whole fucked up mess from somewhere else, yet I can feel myself in my body at the same time. I’m stuck in a perpetual loop of déjà vu. A lethal cocktail of blind terror and relentless confusion courses through my system. Nothing makes sense.

I phone my doctor’s surgery and when the GP calls me back three hours later, I can’t be at all certain that the conversation is genuinely happening or if I’m dreaming the whole thing. This is, without question, the very definition of a living nightmare. Everything is up, down, left, right and backwards and forwards all at the same time. Even a desperate attempt to seek solace from the ridiculous cliché of pinching myself does absolutely nothing to alter my lack of perception.

Am I going insane? Is this what it feels like?

I call the NHS 111 service and they’re not much help, either. After an attempt at conversation rapidly deteriorates and results in further discomfort on my part, the call handler freaks me out by asking if I’m bleeding or if the skin on my chest is warmer than usual. Bad move.

“Mate, I’m on the verge of a full-blown meltdown, so body temperature is the least of my fucking concerns. Can you help me or not?”

“Is it a life-threatening injury?”

“I can’t tell if I’m alive or dead, so what do you think?”

“Could you just hang on while I speak to my …”

I hang up, head outside, light an umpteenth cigarette and pace frantically up and down the garden patio.

This has to be real.

How can I be sure?

Catching my reflection in the patio window, I appear to be a figment of my own warped imagination, so I dart back inside the house, grab a can of Guinness left over from Christmas out the fridge and down it in about thirty seconds flat – as if my life depended on it. But instead of instant calm, I feel sick to my stomach. I daren’t drink any more alcohol because as I’ve discovered on multiple occasions (to my cost), it solves precisely nothing. Bad move number three hundred and forty-seven.

I’m trapped in my own mind with no way out. I convince myself that death is the only solution. I yank open the cutlery drawer, revealing all manner of sharp, deadly instruments. Any of these will do. But I consider the ramifications of suicide and how it would tear my family to pieces and I sink to the floor a defeated mess of ugly, wretched sobbing. I curl myself into a ball and tears flood my eyes as I surrender to the horrors of my haunted soul.

I am gone.

Please let me die.

This isn’t a life. Please take me away from this world. Just one painless heart attack or a seizure – anything. Take me away from this perpetual suffering.

Forever.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Bizarrely, that one line from the lyrics of Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’ is all I can manage to say to myself over and over and over.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Drifting into a trance-like state, I start to relive a particularly vivid and recurrent bad dream. Against a blackened sky and over scorched earth, I’m riding a rollercoaster with my hands nailed to the metal handrails. The trail of cars screeches around every corner at a hundred miles an hour and dips into the deepest, darkest oblivion. Blood streams over the handrails as the nails drill into my palms. I lurch and buckle from the jolts and weaves of every sharp curve. A cackling demon sits beside me, its stark red eyes piercing my skull.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Everyone I’ve ever loved and lost is sat all around me on the rollercoaster, laughing and jeering in delight at my horrific misfortune. Payback time.

You knew this day would come.

You useless cunt.

Go on, kill yourself.

See if anyone cares.

ALL YOUR FRIENDS HATE YOU.

EVERYONE HATES YOU.

NO-ONE’S gonna miss a drunk LIKE YOU.

DO US ALL A FAVOUR.

Kill kill KILL.

STOP. STOP. STOP.

The voices fade away. With both hands covering my eyes, I slowly, carefully peak through my trembling fingers. A figure begins to form, and I realise my mother is standing in front of me with tears streaming down her face. I quickly get to my feet and embrace her and she leans into my chest as we hold one another. I start to cry again, partly from relief but mostly from shame. Days later, I discover she’d been in the house the whole time I was trapped in my dissociative meltdown. I hadn’t noticed Mum or anything else as I struggled and raged against the relentless tide of mental turmoil.

I quickly head upstairs, neck two Diazepam and get into bed. The valium, combined with sheer exhaustion and the alcohol from earlier, has me sliding painlessly into a soothing sleep within seconds.

I just slip away and now I am … gone.