Now You Hear Me, Now You Don’t
Eight months ago, I had just returned from a three year overseas working trip. My plan was to stay in Sydney for the 3 month holiday, and then return.
The few months before my return were some of the hardest I had experienced in a long time.
Career-wise, everything was amazing. I was teaching in one of the best schools, loved my colleagues and students, and I was earning good money.
Socially, I was fine. I had some great and supportive friends. Everything, then, seemed to be perfect.
While I was living this ‘perfect’ little life, I overlooked the darkness that was slowly shadowing itself into and over my everyday routine.
Even though I didn’t directly acknowledge it at the time, deep down I knew what was headed my way.
It was a feeling that I was all too familiar with.
It was the urge to intoxicate myself, not only to block out the stress and anxiety of every day life, but also the aching triggers of past experiences.
This feeling and I had a long history. If I had to describe it, I would say it is like being in a toxic, emotionally and physically draining relationship with someone. However, even though this person is killing you, very slowly, but ever so surely, you always seem to find a reason (or an excuse) to let them back into your life. Most of the time you aren’t even aware of the damage they are causing you. You grow an unbreakable bond, and eventually it gets to the point where you allow and need this pain, just so you can feel anything at all.
Last year, while overseas, I experienced one of the most traumatic episodes of my life.
One morning, I woke up on a normal sunny day. As soon as I opened my eyes, I started to hear the usual chatter of my neighbours from my window.
It took me a couple of minutes, but I realised that they were talking about me.
I just lay there and listened as carefully as I could. I was physically frozen and emotionally scared.
They were talking about me and how they had heard me having sex with men, sometimes many men at the same time.
They knew about the drugs I was taking and spoke of my usage, and how they couldn’t believe that I would get up to such disgusting shenanigans. After all, I was very well-respected and liked within the community. They even seemed to get a snapshot of my Grindr profile.
They had heard everything, and they weren’t afraid to share it.
I was absolutely mortified. My anxiety levels were through the roof. This literally was my worst nightmare unfolding before me. All of these people knew my family, even the ones in Australia.
I went into my lounge room and just sat there. What was I going to do? I was too scared to leave my apartment. I felt hopeless.
The voices of gossip started again. They were getting more violent and aggressive as time passed.
There was a little cafe below my apartment where men spent their days gambling and chatting. They all knew me.
I could hear them getting ready to come upstairs and approach me. I couldn’t leave without them seeing. I was stuck.
The swearing and degrading talk was getting louder.
I closed the blinds and locked my doors and windows, hoping to make them believe I wasn’t at home.
Then something very unexpected happened.
I heard my cousin and uncle downstairs, shouting and arguing with the people who were slandering me.
The fight escalated. I could hear it all, but was paralysed. I just sat there, on the floor, crying and trembling.
The sound of sirens shook me, and I realised the police were now involved. I could hear them being informed about my drug usage and ‘disgusting’ sexual activities.
In a panic, I stood and tried to hide anything related to drugs that I had in my apartment.
I thought the police officers would come up, but they never did. They departed the scene, saying they would be back.
The yelling and arguing between the men and my relatives grew stronger, to the point where everyone was shouting over each other.
Then it happened.
No. This couldn’t be happening, I thought, but the screams and cries said otherwise.
My uncle had been shot.
The sounds of sirens and shouting overpowered my hysterical cries. I was mortified, but still couldn’t move. I just sat there, staring into blank space.
I focused my attention back to the conversations. Now it wasn’t only the neighbours that hated me, but my cousins too. To them, I didn’t go downstairs, even though my uncle had died trying to protect me, purely because I didn’t care. That was their perception of the situation.
The clinking of chains and guns, swearing and voices were getting closer to me. I curled up into fetal position next to the door, hysterically hyperventilating. They would be up any minute.
It just kept getting worse. They were now talking about what I was doing at that particular moment, as if they could see me.
Fuck. Obviously they could see and hear me. Cameras. That was the only logical explanation since I was alone.
So, I sat in a dark corner, away from their view.
I was up all night in that very position. There were times when the situation would ease, then escalate again.
The sun arose once more. By now, word had spread around the neighbourhood, and to almost everyone I knew.
My colleagues, students, friends and neighbours were all outside on the street. They were saying the most awful things about me.
I wanted to do something, but could barely breathe. If I opened the door, they would kill me, just like they did to my uncle.
It didn’t stop, so I said ‘Fuck it. Let them kill me.’
I opened my door and just sat waiting for someone to come up. Maybe if they beat the shit out of me, it’ll all be over, I thought.
The old lady who lived across from me called out my name.
“Anyone there? Why is the door open? Hello?” she said, sounding slightly concerned.
Clearly she hadn’t heard the news. I got up and shut the door.
As I continued to stay situated, I felt everything getting worse and worse, darker and more sinister. It was almost as if everyone got more violent the longer they had to plan. All this coming from people who were close to me.
I cracked. Completely broke down. It was finally all too unbearable for me.
I stumbled to my bathroom, barely catching a breath, found and smashed a razor, and cut both of my wrists.
It still didn’t hurt more than pain I was suffering in my mind and soul.
Once I saw the blood trickling down my hands, I had a sudden mental jolt, and a voice told me to call my psychologist.
I told her everything, and that I needed help before they killed me.
She listened, then calmly asked me to just look outside my window.
It took her 15 minutes to convince me to do this.
I finally gained enough courage, and cautiously peeked out the window.
Nobody was there. The street was empty.
But there was one problem. The voices still were.
Even though I was literally face to face with the fact that this was all literally happening in my head, I still had something in me telling me it was real.
Now, not only was I terrified of everything I was hearing, but I was also thinking that I had lost my mind.
It was a battle between reality and a very dark imagination, and both were doing their best to sway me to their direction.
My psychologist called my best friend and she was at my place within half an hour. She told me to pack a bag and that we’d be going to her place.
I refused to leave. I still believed that there was a mob waiting for me downstairs.
She assured me that the taxi was right outside and that no one would even see me leave, majorly because nobody was there.
Half an hour later, I put a hoodie over my head and charged hurriedly towards the taxi.
During that 15 minute trip, I was constantly checking around me, to see if I was being followed.
Once we arrived at her place, she poured me a whiskey, and we sat and talked while I calmed down a little. I still somehow believed that everything I heard actually physically occurred, even though she pointed out evidence which proved otherwise.
For example, one of the voices I heard was of a friend who wasn’t even in the same city at the time. Yet I still wasn’t convinced.
My friend had to go and check on her beauty salon, and I was feeling a little better by this time. I told her I would be OK while she was absent.
She left, and I had a couple more whiskeys and a sleeping pill. Even though the time span of these events felt like much less, I realised that I had locked myself in my flat for almost 5 days. That’s 5 days with no sleep, food or water. Naturally, my body was exhausted.
I lay down. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes in hospital, surrounded by family and friends.
Based on what I was told, my friend returned from work and couldn’t wake me. My body must have been too tired to respond.
She thought I had committed suicide and called an ambulance, along with my relatives.
For 2 months after this, before returning to Sydney, I was not allowed to live alone anymore, so I stayed with close relatives.
I was in and out of hospital and had countless appointments with doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists during this period.
Also during these already overwhelming couple of months, I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, severe clinical depression and manic-depressive behaviour.
Still, to this day, I simply cannot understand how my brain manipulated me into believing that these horrific events actually physically occurred. It doesn’t make sense to me.
It was like watching a film where you are the main star. The film takes very twisted and dark turns and plays on your biggest fears, and there is absolutely no way out until the film runs its course.
It took months to shake the horrific, terrifying and threatening feeling off of me.
It has now been around one year, and I still live in fear. The fear that maybe something that I’m hearing or seeing, may not actually be there.
I live in fear, not only because of other traumatic experiences that I have actually lived through in the past, but also of things that only I can hear or see. Things that are only in my head.
This psychosis, this mental break, psychotic episode or whatever else you’d like to call it, will forever haunt me. Even though it hasn’t happened again since then, I will never know if it will creep up on me again.
Until next time…