A Matter of Life and Death

This time last week I was at death’s door. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? So dramatic in fact, that a few people didn’t think much of it; when I was transferred from one A&E to another in an ambulance with the whole flashing blue lights and oxygen mask thing going on. The paramedic had a footlong Subway – Italian BMT I think – which went cold in its bag on the journey. You notice little things like this, even when it’s a matter of life and death.

Death’s door. Funny phrase, that. I don’t think I was at its actual door. I wasn’t ready to knock, put it that way. More at the end of the driveway, but I could have very quickly got to the doorstep if I hadn’t been treated for Sepsis as a precaution. There were blood tests while I was given oxygen, fluid IVs, forms to sign while they were tapping for veins and pumping the blood pressure cuff. The results of the blood test didn’t make it from one hospital to another. I was well enough to ask for clarification but not well enough to fully understand the response. There was talk of meningitis, talk of pneumonia. Where were the bloody results? Let’s just do them again. I can’t go out like this, I thought, on an administrative error.

Not so long ago, I was trying to make sense of the feelings about my life that suggested that perhaps I wasn’t really making such a good job of this Life thing after all, and that calling it quits might be the only route out of the pain in my head and my heart. And here I was, staring up at fluorescent strip lighting, in and out of lucidity, not knowing whether I should be frightened or not and ultimately reaching the decision that if you’re going to die in a situation like this that you don’t necessarily know it’s coming. That it can happen when there’s still dirty dishes at home, when you haven’t paid the window cleaner. When you haven’t ironed your child’s uniform. When you haven’t said goodbye. When you have nobody with you to hold your hand at the last moment. It isn’t meant to end like this.

In the event, that last moment didn’t come. But it came close enough. I’ve heard about what Sepsis can do, I’ve seen pictures of meningitis patients, I’ve lost relatives to pneumonia. I was close enough for my liking.Instead I sweated it out for days, slept fitfully in the days and was sedated at night so  my crying and calling out for people who weren’t there didn’t disturb other patients.

Back home, a week passed and I noticed nothing. Didn’t notice the days, the hours, nothing. I was numb. I felt nothing. I felt nothing.

Meanwhile a girl much younger than me dies. Not from my circle of friends. Friend of a friend of a friend type thing. I don’t even know how I know, as it wasn’t my news to hear. Just something that shows up on your social media the same as boomeranged cocktails or toilet selfies or transparent thirst traps or memes. From the outpourings of grief it’d seem that her circle of friends is enormous, in the way that 20-somethings who work in hospitality often are. I think about my own circle; how it’s changed since I was that age, with nearly everyone I knew at 26 not in my life anymore. Dead themselves, or falling out, or just slowly becoming strangers again.

I suspect, although I don’t know and it’s none of my business, that she has ended her own life. I get it, I thought. I get how it doesn’t matter how many people you’ve got around you. Only a fraction of them will truly know you, and none of them can truly help you. I feel sorry for the girl, her face smiling back from the Instagram tributes, sorry for the pain she must have lived with. It takes the lived experience of having known some of that pain for anyone to understand someone’s decision and not to judge. To even think: just let them go.

Naturally, it being so close to my recent experience, when life and death were pushing and pulling at one another, I began to think about myself. Who would show the world a picture of me and say they loved me and missed me? Who would even have a recent photo of me? This isn’t a pity party; this is an evaluation. I have neglected my quality of life.

I am an all or nothing person. I will give everything or I will give nothing and being stuck in a situation somewhere in between – maybe not having the best relationship with your family, or not being around the right people, or parenting challenges, or unrewarding work, or when you love someone who doesn’t love you… then you’re stuck in a No Man’s Land of feelings. You can’t be your best self. And I’ve neglected my quality of life so much that I haven’t been my best self. Add that to depression and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The thing about wanting to die is that you don’t want to die at all. You want to live. But you don’t want to just exist; breathing in pain, exhaling vitality. And the thing about finding yourself in a situation where there’s a possibility that you might die – just not on your owns terms – can make you want to fight it, make you want to survive (if you’re conscious enough that is). It doesn’t necessarily follow that because you wanted to end your life one moment, that you want to die of an infection in a sweat panic. Nor does it mean that you simply come out of hospital suddenly un-suicidal.

I came home different, but not magically full of bon viveur. That’ll come, but it’ll come in time, and it was something I was working on anyway. Instead I came home numb. I came home quiet and less teary. Bewildered by what had just happened – which had seemed all at once to have gone by in a flash and to have taken an age – and thoroughly exhausted physically and mentally.

Before I was truly recovered – because time waits for no mum – I was up trying my best to make an ambitious birthday cake for my son’s 5th birthday. Hardly a matter of life and death and it was rubbish but also impressive, and the thought was there. The effort was there. After all, he is my life. But I can’t go on neglecting my own life anymore. There’s going to be photographs, and there’s going to be friends. There’s going to be love that I deserve (even if it’s only from me – and that’s fine). I’ve got over 20 years of pain that I let escalate and which need to distil into the next 1, 2, or 5 years and turn into something beautiful. However long it takes.

You could say the old me is dead, as crap as that sounds (and surely my birthday in early January is the best time for an Epiphany anyway?) but you don’t choose the moment, it chooses you.

I’ve got a full and wonderful life ahead of me. It isn’t meant to end like this.

To a girl who I didn’t know, but many did know and love her. Thank you for helping me without even knowing it.


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