I'd like to caution readers that I'll be very candidly discussing my experience with suicide, depression, PTSD, anxiety and abuse. If reading about these subjects affects you harmfully, please skip this piece. Thank you.
Please view the cited sources and image credits at the end of this piece.
I've tried to write this piece several times a month for the last two years. However, as time goes on, more shit is heaved onto my plate and my mental health dips so quickly, I can't catch a clear moment to write this all down.
I'd like to make it clear that I'm not better. I have depression. It ebbs and flows like water; occasionally I'm drowning, most of the time I'm floating steadily, my head above water but never on land.
Days like this remind me of last summer when I drowned. I would think about the different ways I could take my life. I have this jar of painkillers I take on the first day of my period because the pain is too much to bear if I don't catch it on time. I lied in bed and thought about how much I'd have to take to stop breathing. I normally take two, however I'm quite tall and softly built so perhaps five times that amount will suffice. When I'm on the tube platform, I tried to notice where the tram runs along the rails. If I fling myself off, I want to get it right. Then there's my wrists. "Along the tracks, not across them", I've heard, though this won't work for me; I've always had an aversion to pain since I was a kid. So - painkillers it is.
I didn't do it, and that is because of my mother. It would kill her more than it would kill me. Suicidal thoughts is a new feeling, a new habit.
Five years ago, I was first coming to terms with anxiety due to stress from school in Year 11. I spent my time predominately alone after a succession of toxic friendships. I had tried to make new friends before summer break but it didn't work and I ended up spending a lot of my time writing outside at the back of school where I'd watch kids sneak off and smoke.
In the summer holidays, I found The Last of Us, and that saved me; after a summer of research on Naughty Dog, it introduced me to the idea that games could be a job, what narrative next gen games could achieve, who I needed to be. Lastly, I found my best friend in the final year of sixth form and enjoyed the best five of months school with her; these bits of hope carried me through.
Soon after though, a consequence of dealing with my father in succession with dropping out of university in Christmas 2015 meant I got severely depressed. I withdrew inside of myself for nine months. 2016 is a blur for me. I don't remember most things from that year. The one thing that made me want to keep going was getting into London's Escape Studios game arts degree. Finally I had found somewhere I could study what I had fell in love with years ago. I had been avoiding games for so long because frankly, I'm a poor, mixed Midlander with a recovering, black mother, with no close family. It was a pipe dream, studying games, unheard of for someone in my position (I'd never seen anyone in the industry who was like me); I hadn't even bothered to look for games courses before dropping out. But when I did, something in me snapped and I said, "Fuck it", so I applied on the UCAS deadline and got in two months later.
In 2016, I believed that I was at a point where I was okay again. I had achieved this huge, unbelievable goal. Games is a luxury subject to study. You don't just need to turn up with a book and pencil like I had with Brighton. You need a high-spec PC; you need to attend events to make contacts; if you can, you need to be in London; you need to be where the internships are; you need to prepare for a job from day one. And for my course? I had to find my own accommodation 120 miles away because the school is private unlike Brighton Uni, the funds for it before my student finance came in for a deposit plus the petrol to get me there.
You might be studying at uni, or even also studying games and thinking, "Nah, you don't need all this extra shit. It's not that hard. Stop overreacting." Well think about it from my point of view. If I don't start all of this now - if I'm not aware that I need to start all of this now, then in 2020 when my course is over, who pays for my rent? Who pays for me to stay in London and look for work?
I have no-one supporting my back. I don't have parents or family that will pay for my rent, I don't have parents or family who will pay for my travel or for a flat so I can do an internship after I graduate. I don't live near the capital. I'm the one trying to support my mom at the moment. I can't make mistakes because the only person I can rely on is myself.
This is why I didn't want to study games, despite how much I fucking love it. It's a luxury a poor girl like me can't have. It's a stress I didn't want. But here I am.
I clawed myself out of so much mental shit in 2016, away from my depression, being lied to and manipulated by my father and relatives and my one focus was making it in games, in London, the dream city.
When my aunt graciously offered me a cheap room to rent in her house, I happily accepted. Finally, here was an extended family member I could rely on. Now, at nineteen, I was going to see what it was like to have that big supportive circle.
This doesn't have a happy ending.
My aunt fucked with my head. The post-traumatic stress of living with my aunt haunts me daily. I let my guard down and I shouldn't have. For six months, she picked at me over and over; she picked at my food, my routine, my body. Next she accused me of doing things I didn't do, little things, that made me think I was crazy: damaging her floor, yelling in my room at midnight that I told her I was going to Reading that weekend which is why I decided to wash my jeans on a different than usual laundry day (this still baffles me), accusing me of lying again and threatening me at night in my room, talking back, being cold, making too much noise, making too little noise.
For six months while I tried to enjoy my degree, she picked, and picked, and picked. I couldn't concentrate in class; all the learning retention I was good at in school melted from my brain like ice; from December onward, I was unhappy about going 'home'; near the end of living with her, I stopped cooking because I was scared to be in the same room as her. I stored up on avocado and peanuts for my dinners instead. If I was out, I went to bed hungry.
I don't know why she did it. Why did she invite me? Why did she chip away at me? Why?
Was it my fault?
I should have gotten the warning in February. 2017 started a little rocky for me, with a feeling being quelled and a resolution to take time to be by myself and rethink how I felt.
She locked me out the house the February weekend I went home to see my Mom. She went on holiday for a week - the week of my first assessment. I had to stop my work, apply for an extension, retake the test, the first time I failed because I was trying to do that and learn VFX at the same time which was just pushing me back in both subjects. The second time I took the assignment was over the summer, requiring me to be there and spend rent money I didn't really have.
But that's fine right? A re-take? My aunt had promised I could stay for the summer with her. This, I told myself, I could deal with.
On Monday 13 March 2017 something inside of me woke me up at 5am. I had this intense feeling that I needed to leave early, before she woke up. I packed my laptop, and decided to prep for Birdlessly actually, at the huge Starbucks off Tottenham Court Rd. Before I left, I made sure to pay my aunt my rent for the week on my phone.
I worked till 9am, then went to uni and while I was working, I got a message from my aunt saying that I need to text my Mom to ask her to answer my aunt's calls. I did. My mom called me back. I left class.
"L****** is kicking you out of her house."
I'm a poor, mixed Midlander
"We need you and your stuff out by 8pm."
with a recovering, black mother
"She's packed up your stuff already."
with no close family.
"I'm going to drive down now to bring you home."
I've failed. Again.
Upstairs, I sobbed. I paced the stairs between floors one and two so many times, sucking wails in so hard my throat hurt. And, then - and then I went numb. I went in standby. Honestly, I emotionally shut down for three months.
I told student services. I told my animation tutor who knew about my aunt before from the project retake to cause a paper trail. I messaged my friend who had offered me a place stay while that crisis had happened. We organised a sudden move. I would take the spare room. Our moms called each other. My mom got the car checked and started driving down at 3pm. I waited at uni till 6pm, then waited at the local McDonalds for an hour and forty minutes because my aunt had locked me out of the house. I watched iPlayer on my laptop. My mom was late. Twenty minutes to eight, she parked up, went in and used the loo and we drove up to the house.
I stepped in to grab a box and she said, "She not allowed in here."
She's not allowed in here.
She's not allowed in here.
If I close my eyes, I can hear her.
She's not allowed in here.
Mom passes me a box, then a bag, a bin bag and I'm thinking, "Is this all my stuff?" I have to trust that all my stuff is here. I have to - trust her.
I remember hauling the box, neighbours watching, humiliated, and scratching my arm on a fence post drawing blood, still walking to the car, just numb, numb, numb.
My mom drove the car up closer when someone moved and we finally finished an hour later.
I still don't know if I have all my belongings. There are things I remember I once had, that are gone, and realise she still has even today.
She kept my rent money for the week.
I just, suppressed so much of it. At my friend's house, it was like a holiday. I was living in this beautiful home by the coast with this kind family; it felt like a movie. But my brain was so mangled; I struggled in uni to pass because I couldn't retain the information and it still affects me now. How I think and my memory is still so damaged.
I pushed down the feelings of what had happened because I didn't want to break down in this beautiful house. So, I waited.
I moved back to London last June. I live on a nice street in North London, in a nice house with nice people. I have a nice room, and a nice rent. Having my living situation settled, being alone, I broke. This was when I dealt with the idea of killing myself.
Because it didn't make sense to me how in the space of a year and a half to have both sides of my family humiliate, manipulate, abuse and throw me away. I must have done something wrong. I think I did? It makes no sense. For June, July, August, I came close to ending it with the painkillers and ultimately, I didn't because my friends and I were looking for a house.
When the house fell through in August, I relapsed and for the following week, I didn't shower, eat, leave my room, or speak to anyone. Again, I came close.
But then I got a job at Waitrose, and the promise of future work at the lovely place I'm at now. I saw my friends and we went for a picnic in Hampstead Heath, I started uni again, I found a permanent home in my favourite part of London, I've pushed myself at uni, project after project after project to try and build my memory back to like it was before, I got my amazing job at Christmas and made my first grand in a month from that and my first freelance graphic design commission. I've spent two long holidays at home with my mom, I've pushed myself to go to game events and open up about my story to a positive, empathetic response from people in the industry, I got a personal tutor at uni who I told all of this too and felt so much happier, and my friends have been there for me everyday without knowing it. Having so many people support me at uni has saved my life.
When days like today happen, when all those feelings rush back and I can feel what is was like to live with her, I remind myself to think back to how I was last summer and compare.
I'm still depressed, yes. But less depressed. I'm still struggling in my course, yes. But less so! I just finished my first 3D model all on my own! Not many errors! I'm settled, and I'm fighting. "It wasn't my fault" is something I tell myself everyday. I gained and lost and I still have what I always had: my mother, my rock, the best and largest family I could ever ask for.
I will keep fighting for my place on this course, for my mother and for myself.