By Ana Maria Gomides
When I write from Narrm or Birraranga, I do so as an uninvited guest, a settler. My Indigeneity and Blackness don’t change the fact that I’m a beneficiary of Indigenous dispossession in these unceded lands. So I’d like to pay my respects to the elders of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation, and to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander folks encountering my work.
CW: mental illness, suicide attempt and ideations.
I missed the beginning. I’d been popping my sleeping meds for two days straight. It sounds like self-destruction but it’s actually self-preservation. My GP calls the pills ‘rescue medication’. That’s validating.
She called them that.
I like to say I’m ‘going on a soma holiday’. ‘Brave New World’ and shit.
I woke up chuckling, dreaming of my girl and her crazy-ass laughter. The nurses kept trying to hush her, but I’d been grateful for the hilarious, guttural roars floating through the depressing ward.
I don’t know how long I was in the ICU before the hospital chucked me in a room with a dying old woman who spent the length of my stay just wailing non-stop. Weird choice of placement for a suicidal 24-year-old. What an alternative to look forward to.
But, in between my roomie’s cries, I could hear that incredible laughter.
Eventually I managed to convince a nurse to escort me to the bathroom so I could take a dump. ‘No, bitch, I can’t do a shit on a bedpan next to a dying old lady.’ But, really, I just wanted to see her.
As soon as I did, I smiled real big, but people with psychosis don’t always take to that. Within seconds, she grabbed my hand and bit down on it, hard. Hospital staff came running, freaking the fuck out, which just made both of us laugh even more.
I was all, ‘It’s totally chill. She’s just doing her thing, I get it.’
I guess I was still pretty high. My girl was strong, though, and with sharp teeth, too. The bite drew blood and everything, left that tiny scar there for a while.
Mamãe is always saying that I’m a bit bruxa like her.
Was always saying.
So I reckon maybe the dream was some sort of premonition about getting bitten again.
I grabbed my phone to check the time, grunted at all the messages and missed calls, didn’t even clock that there were way, way more than usual. Too drowsy to deal. When I opened Facebook to catch up on memes, I saw the tab at the top of the page: Ana Maria, let your friends know you are safe. I sniggered. ‘Define safe.’
Until I realised that the internet was blowing the fuck up.
At first, I wondered if I was having one of my hyper-realistic nightmares. I’m never quite sure if I’m dreaming or not – a side effect of dissociating my whole life.
Those who did mark themselves ‘safe’ quickly disappeared. Online flyers of missing people were trending. A lot of the posts going up became suicide notes. Social media turned into a digital obituary, the pages of the dead filling up with messages from people who hadn’t had so much as two interactions with the deceased. ‘We met that one time at that party when we were both wasted. I don’t remember much, but I’ve always wanted to be your friend. I’m sorry we didn’t get to do that.’
For a hot second, folks tried to get organised, to demand explanations and protection from the government. It was unclear if the thing was a virus or not, how it was transmitted, where it came from. Conspiracy theories everywhere. Friends becoming foes on Facebook threads over difference of opinion. Conservatives and fundamentalists blaming the atheists, the migrants, the queers, the pro-choicers.
I’ve never been able to go to protests because crowds make me sick, plus ACAB, so yeah. Well, that turned into a massacre real fast. Halfway through the Acknowledgement of Country, the collective frustration suddenly turned to panic. So much screaming. People being attacked, becoming thrashing bodies, killing or feeding on those around them.
The livestream videos began as quickly as they ended. Shots of feet avoiding bodies like a minefield. People trying to say goodbye. Phones dropping and breaking along with their owners. Most of the clips were so short they might as well have been GIFs.
So-called Australia was officially, indefinitely quarantined. No help was coming for us. I knew there was no hope as soon as the news about zombies showing up in other countries started coming in. That was the word Twitter landed on: ‘zombies’.
I don’t know how, because I’m ignorant as, but my utilities are still on, including the internet, which went from constant in-flow of information to near-complete silence. It’s eerie. Checking social media became fruitless. I never did answer the missed phone calls, voicemails, text messages. There was no point.
I never did let my friends know that I was, in fact, safe. Maybe safer than I’d ever been.
Big fan of irony, I am.
Speaking of which, I guess what’s really kept me alive this long is my agoraphobia. A condition, some say, that stops me from ‘living my life to the fullest’, whatever the fuck that means.
The depressive episode leading up to my latest soma holiday meant that my support network had dropped off care packages, groceries, meals, ciggies. My housemates never came home, either, so I had plenty of supplies to keep me going. I could’ve stuck around for longer, but even though I had a shit-ton of pills for everything else, I only had four days’ worth of my daily psych meds.
My bedroom, kitchen and bathroom are all at the back of the house, hidden from view by the fence I always thought was unnecessarily tall. The thing blocked out the sun, and a Brown bitch needs her vitamin D, am I right?
I haven’t really heard them out there, though. Maybe they hit up the neighbourhood when I was sleeping. Maybe my neighbours are laying low, too. All my blinds and curtains were already closed to keep the heat in overnight, and once I found out what was going on, I had no desire to look.
There’s this joke among people of colour that whites are always running towards danger. Bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving, swimming with sharks. A wild animal on a track? ‘Hey buddy, come here.’ A commotion on the street involving the police? ‘Let’s all gather round and take a look.’ Just white people doing their thing.
My mãe raised me better than that.
I stare at the meds in my hand now, marvelling at the stillness of the latter. My whole body used to shake at the best of times. I chuck the meds in my mouth, take a big gulp of water.
Every mental-health horror story seems to begin with a primary character deciding to be a hero and going off their meds solo.
It’s this shitty stigma when it comes to psych meds: that, from the moment you start taking them, you should be hoping you won’t be on them forever. And that the longer you take them, the more you’re failing at recovery. The same doesn’t apply to ‘physical’ illnesses, I’m told. But guess what, dickheads – your brain is part of your body, and a pretty important one at that. I’ve spent days, weeks, months in bed, in excruciating pain, barely able to move because of what was going on in my head.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. People, especially those who sit outside the ol’ white-male-cis-het norm, have been wrongfully pathologised, institutionalised and overmedicated for centuries. Still are. Also, Big Pharma and shit.
But in my case, praise Our Lord and Saviour, Beyoncé, for modern medicine. I take so many meds that I have pills to manage the side effects of the ones I take in the first place. Am I still batshit crazy? Yes. But, mostly, significantly less so. It’s been four years since my last attempt. Also, shout-out to therapy. Cheers to Simon, who, despite being a white cis-het dude himself, is a bloody angel and has been putting up with my bullshit for six years.
Was a bloody angel.
Sure, I did contemplate taking all my pills again. But I’ve dealt with ideations for so long that most of the time they’re just like any other thought that pops into my head. Like when you’re listening to someone really boring talk, or sitting in public transport, or having shit sex, and you start thinking about dinner, or the countless plot holes in ‘Harry Potter’, or actual good sex. I’ll go, ‘Mm. Maybe I should take all my pills again today.’
Over the years, I’ve learned to give myself quick retorts to chase these away. ‘People will look through my stuff. Fuckers who don’t even know me will feel entitled to grieve my death on the socials. I want to experience getting fully fisted before I go.’
I’ve been thinking of Mamãe a lot these past few days. I guess, birth and death and all that. When my tio died, I called her on FaceTime all ready for an emotional conversation, but she answered the phone looking super pleased and went, ‘I got a photo of him in the coffin, and he looked beautiful! Lindo! Que? Why are you laughing? He really did!’
So I’ve decided that, if I’m gonna die, I’mma look good doing it. And if I get turned into one of those hideous, veiny, decaying things – this face and this bod are gonna have their last hurrah. I spent so much of my life hating the way I look, but now that I think of what it’s about to become…
Why couldn’t it have been vampires? Those guys are meant to be babes. Pretty good for climate change, actually – sustainable. No agriculture. No overpopulation. I guess they’d run out of food eventually, though. This way is faster. I don’t think immortality is a thing for zombies. But still, babes.
Babes who have lots of sex.
I never did manage to get a full fist in there.
I take my time in the shower, which I’ve avoided so far, worrying it’d be too loud. I wash my hair, scrub my body – including my legs. The pressure and warmth of the water feel like a hug.
I had to chop the bottle of Palmer’s cocoa butter in half to get the last of it out. My support network is mostly white, and I hear they don’t consider moisturising as much of a necessity as we do. Chopping the bottle in half made me think of Mamãe, too. As I rub the lotion on my skin, I can hear her telling me to make sure I get my elbows and knees, because, ‘If you go out looking ashy, people will think you don’t have a mãe.’
The outfit I’ve picked for the occasion is absolutely ridiculous. A matching set of bustier and pants, with a pink and purple mash of animal prints, so ugly that it’s beautiful. It’s a recycled number, but it’s not like I’m about to run into anyone I know.
My manx Panchi is always bitching about Latinx people here trying to dress Latinx on purpose.
Was always bitching.
They made the same speech every time, and I always rolled my eyes at the way it started, ‘Back in Venezuela…’ Such a classic migrant-parent line.
But Panchi also said that I looked like Kali Uchis in this, so.
I apply the foundation that I spent way too much money on even though it doesn’t quite match my skin tone.
Big fucking surprise.
I go steady with the liner, get my wings on point. I fill in my eyebrows laughing at the stupid, wonky slit I shaved into one of them when I was drunk and on Instagram that time, and saw that this Becky had done it and went all, ‘This is my culture, bitch.’
Panchi did have some valid points about people trying to dress Latinx, but I was always like, ‘But reclaiming! The diaspora! Representation matters!’
Centuries of having our cultures desecrated and turned into racist stereotypes, only to be appropriated later.
Because it’s trendy.
This one time, my amigx Vero put it this way: white women wearing hoops is shitty because when they do it, it’s classy. But when you see women of colour wearing them in movies or on TV, it’s to signify ‘ghetto’ or ‘hood’ or whatever.
So I put on my gold bamboo hoops and my name necklace over the little cross Mamãe gave me.
I let go of religion a long time ago. Still, I wear the pendant as a reminder that my mãe loved me so much that she was hoping we’d spend eternity together.
I’ve been ready for the world to end since my first ideation at around age eight, Simon and I concluded. If I die and cease to exist, then so does the world, for me.
But the world outside of myself is actually ending now.
It’s never really made much sense for me, the world. But everything got worse a few years ago, especially for us folks of colour. History is always repeating itself when it comes to us. Trump being elected, with promises of getting rid of migrants. Specifically, Brown migrants. A known fascist in Brasil, erasing the rights of pessoas Indigenas within hours of being sworn in. Anti-Islam campaigns increasing in popularity, self-proclaimed Nazis holding public demonstrations, refugees in cages, Aboriginal children still getting stolen from their families, Black and Brown folks being killed in the streets.
‘I refuse to be just another Black or Brown death’ is a one of the things I used to tell myself when I felt particularly suicidal.
Zombies don’t seem to discriminate, though. In those videos of the protest, cops, civilians, speakers, everyone was attacked, regardless of their race.
Colourblindness. It might just actually be a real thing for them.
I put on my Cruella de Vil–esque faux-fur coat and look in the mirror one last time. ‘Why not vampires?’
When I open the front door, the sunlight is so bright that I go dizzy for a second. But I shake myself off, put on these huge, red sunglasses studded with diamantes, light a cigarette and step outside.
Every mental-health horror story seems to begin with a primary character deciding to be a hero by going off their meds solo. Some end in suicide.
It’s how I believed I’d eventually die.
But it’s already a horror story out there.
Though I am about to die, I needed something to make sense.
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I chose myself.
Big fan of irony, I am.
An earlier version of this piece was written for performance at ‘Cry Havoc: A Djed Press Showcase’, as part of the 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival.
With this in mind, I’d like to clarify that the protest passage in this story should in no way be interpreted as a reprimand of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in Narrm/Birraranga in June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd. I don’t subscribe to the theory – by which I mean, the load of white, right-wing bullshit propaganda – that the events were to blame for the second wave of COVID-19 in so-called Melbourne.