CW // This content contains descriptions of self-harm, and also refers to themes of suicide. Please proceed with caution. If you are having depressive thoughts at the moment, please do not continue.
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[Wednesday 1:38 AM] Sarah
So do you want to talk about it?
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Josee
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Sarah
[Wednesday 1:44 AM] Josee
I’ve said everything I wanted to. I’m not sure. I think that I will be okay.
[Wednesday 1:45 AM] Sarah
Are you going to bed now? You should. It’s late.
[Wednesday 1:49 AM] Josee
Just some writing. I have a hazy story inside my head, and I’ve tried to write it out but the words don’t seem to mean anything. But in all seriousness, I think I just need some time to sort things out on my own. I’ll write later. I’m looking forward to it already.
[Wednesday 1:51 AM] Sarah
Great! I’m so glad to hear that.
An hour later
[Wednesday 2:51 AM] Sarah
You know something, Josee—you can always talk to me when you are feeling alone. You know? I was thinking about our friendship and what it means to me, everything.
Has it occurred to you that I know absolutely nothing about your life? The things you like, the kind of music you listen to, I don’t know of it. I’ve talked to you for so long but it’s dawning on me that each time when I do, you are just listening to my feelings. You’ve been a great friend, but some days you can be distant too.
Are you okay?
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m okay.
[Wednesday 2:57 AM] Sarah
Okay, Josee. I believe you. I can’t wait for you to teach me how to paint tomorrow, can we please start with painting trees?
[Wednesday 2:58 AM] Josee
GO TO SLEEP LOL.
“I wish I hadn’t gone to sleep that night.”
Everything made no sense to Sarah. She cried occasionally, trying to make sense of her emotions, but she was getting colder and stiffer. It is well known that she and Josee had been friends for 8 years. She felt certain that there was probably a time, at least a few occasions where Josee was smiling, laughing, and having fun with everyone else.
She had also read stories from Josee. Josee was a great writer, she had a way with words that made things feel real. Some held a pessimistic outlook on life and development of irrational fears, some filled with anger and hurt. But Josee was alright. She was having a stable income and was advancing in her life. But Sarah also recalled a time she saw one of Josee’s artwork; a woman weeping in such silent and bitter distress that Sarah’s heart almost moved out to her. Yet all she could mouth to Josee was, “Your art is beautiful. I wish I could paint like you.”
Everything happened so fast, without warning. No one knew Josee had been mildly to moderately depressed with several episodes of major depression. At first, everyone else thought she was just having a bad day, perhaps it was seasonal depression. They hadn’t seen her sitting in her room using her tears as to ease the wounds she had inflicted on herself. And under all that summer heat, no one seemed to ask Josee why she wore sweaters and long sleeves. It seemed clear to Josee that her body was a canvas and the knife was a paintbrush, and the only paint colour she had to express with was red.
Letters. There were letters in Josee’s desk too. They found many letters in her handwriting. She wrote letters to her father, her mother, brother, Sarah, including some other friends too. They never sent them, and she wrote to them as if she was already gone, like she knew she was never going to see them again. In her own words too, in every letter, there was a common theme of her concealing how she felt. Damaged, unworthy, unseen, unheard, undeserving, broken beyond help… a cry for just wanting to be enough, to feel enough, that she was worth living in this place.
For there were so many days Josee couldn’t bear to be around people at work too; she would detached herself from work and tried to go solo whenever she could. It was always easier to not have to hide and lie to people that she wanted out. All of those feelings of not belonging, not being like everyone else, having to hide how the voices in her head makes life exhausting, isolating… it all made her feel small, ashamed, and tormented.
It was hard to take in. Sarah buried her face in her hands, mourning came as a sad song, soft and low. Josee had her great sides too, she could be cheerful, giddy and witty. The people around her felt assured, and when they reached out to her, she would politely decline things, laughed it off and change the subject. Maybe, maybe what Sarah never understood was, all this while, the writing, the art, the changing of subject, were all cries for help. She could canalise her feelings into a coherent one; she only knew how desperately she wanted to turn back time. Crying seemed to be the only sensible thing to do now.
The night of Josee’s departure
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
No, I’m not okay at all. Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) I’m scared of falling asleep. I’m scared of being awake. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sarah. Help. Please for help. I don’t think I will make it tonight. It feels so suffocating to be here. I feel trapped even when all the doors and windows in the house are wide open. I going to put a stop to it. I’m going to stop feeling this way. I just want that fucking noise in my head to stop. I will put an end to this. Every second of everyday, I think about silencing that voice. Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. But I want I’ve always wanted to know if I was a bother to you? You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m not okay. I want to kill myself tonight. If I don’t make it tonight, I just want you to know, thank you for staying with me all this years as a friend. I love you and I’m sorry.
Josee Lee Williams (11 March 1996 – 4 July 2021) died from an overdose. The last painting they ever found in her room was a tree in shades of red. Looking closer, through it all, the tree seemed like a sentry to the bloody landscape, the stoic guardian of so many souls, a beauty that encouraged the spirit to dance though words, to make odes to its branches that spread heaven-bound.And in the strong light of the new day, gives liberty for the senses in those moving leaves, the thousand green hues and the soft whispering in the wind that sings “You’re okay now, Josee. All is well.”
Having going through severe depression myself, I can say in my own case that depression isn't a fixed form, it comes it all sorts. What is heart-breaking though, is coming to terms with depression, my mind tries to reason with it. I force yourself to feel, to be vulnerable, to reach out to someone. It's hard, and it's painful. It's a cycle of self-hate I put myself in, and I disappoint myself. That's when the thought of killing myself seems 'worthwhile'. For when I look around and find that world has moved on, and I can't seem to catch up... a race I'm so scared of losing. I contemplated back and forth on sharing this piece. I understand the consequences that comes with sharing such a personal part of me, but it's not a piece of me that I am ashamed of. I just wouldn't know how people would take it. If you read this until the end, know that I am always 6 feet deep inside my mind, but I still keep living every single day.
I wrote this piece for many reasons, how depression is a silent killer, and it makes me realise how important it is for me to be grateful for my loved ones, as well as be aware of what I say to a friend or stranger. Because any moment now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Any moment can be an event that impacts our lives one way or another. If you just need a friend, someone to connect with, someone to listen, I’ll be here. There are also many people who would care for you, please reach out. ♡
Life, you walked too fast
I don't know what I lost in the way today,
my existence looked blurry
when I peeped into myself.
TW // Suicide. Death. Psychological Abuse. [ This is a work of fiction. ]
“You poor thing,” He said as he bustled around with his smile. “You’ll never amount to anything. Don’t worry though, you’re good at hiding that part of you. Everyone around you thinks you’ve got it together. They won’t suspect anything with the way you smile, handle your job like a pro, and so much more. In the meantime, you can try to hope things get better so you can live longer, but don’t count on it, darling.”
I laughed nervously, forgetting that I was in the middle of painting something, I didn’t even notice that the brush hung limply against my fingers, fresh paint dripping onto the floor. I must confess that at this time I was a paranoid 30 year old filled to the brim with anxiety. I had just gotten home after seeing the psychiatrist and the last thing I wanted was to be regarded as the poor thing. “That’s not true,” I stammered, trying but failing to instill confidence with what I have left. “I will get better. You’re just not giving me a chance to. I’ll work hard. I used to have trouble waking up in the mornings but I do that now, don’t I? I am going to get better and happier. I am going to make new friends, see the world, and do the things that I love.”
I didn’t realise how fast I was speaking by the end.
He turned over to me, my eyes instinctively turned away, I could see from the corner he was still wearing his indulgent smile on his face. “If that’s what you think, darling. But let me remind you just how pathetic you are. Now, let’s see. I am going to ask you to play a game with me. We’ll take a walk down memory lane. I’ll ask you questions, and you answer. Will that be okay, sweetie?” His voice sounded sweet with poison.
My past had been a place I never wanted to revisit for good reasons. All those memories of traumatic experiences that have been painful and have left their emotional residue within me… Just how long had I been faking security? Even then, I didn’t want to give in completely, not especially when he was giving me a rub on my back, something that I didn’t ask for. I’ve been living with him for as long as I can remember. My conversations with him were something I’ve grown accustomed to and though I didn’t necessarily agree with the things he said, I just didn’t have the mental energy to start a debate with him either. As these thoughts ran through my mind, the only impulse I wanted to do was to shout at him, “Right now??” but nothing came out, my defiance clamped in my throat.
“Sure, go on.” I gave a despairing sigh, my hand instinctively putting down the paintbrush on a wood palette that rested on my art desk. All my thoughts of peaceful solitude fled my mind like scared children, my mind felt full of static like an old television set that has lost its signal. I was hesitant. Part of me was screaming to run away from him, but I knew it was futile to put up a fight against him.
His fingers left my back as he eagerly helped me to stand up, then carefully, he led me up the stairs to my bedroom and for an awful second, I was sure I nearly tripped over the steps when he let go of my hand. I could imagine then that there was an odd look on his face when I struggled to maintain my balance, almost as if it was farcical to him, that the odd look quickly morphed into a smile as he reached his hand out to help me. I apologized and he assured me that it was alright.
When we reached my bedroom, he had been nice enough to help me sit on the cushioned bed. I noticed he had arranged the pillows neatly too, and the sheets looked clean. Quite comforting to know he wasn’t staying rent-free. It took me a while to get used to the idea that I could carry conversations with a person who never got out to do anything for himself but only stayed indoors all day, all night talking to me. It made perfect sense to him, because he was still taking care of the house.
“Remember when you were seven and couldn’t fit in school because you stuttered?” He took a vanity chair and sat legs folded in front of me. My eyes went down to the floor.
“Yes, I do. They made fun of me because I was different. I couldn’t concentrate in class either because they were always picking on me, even when I—” My shoulders tensed up a little as I tried to get the words out. “Even when I paid no heed to their business. The teacher wouldn’t stand up for me because I was just too different. It wasn’t their fault though, I don’t hold any grudge against them, we just didn’t get to communicate properly.”
“On the contrary,” He cut in, his voice stingingly sharp. “You’ve got that wrong. They didn’t like you. That’s why they picked on you. Speaking of communication too, wasn’t it just as awful living with your parents?” He narrowed his eyes and glared at me as he demanded, “Admit that it was a living hell for you.”
He wasn’t wrong. It really was hell living with those two. They fought, every single day, over the smallest things. There were nights where I would lay in bed listening to their constant berating and insult at each other. The sound of clashing voices became familiar to me. I was confident that if I tried hard enough, I could recite all the things they said with their raised voices. It would start so quietly, small bickering over a dinner session gone wrong, or if my mother didn’t like how father would leave the chair unarranged after he used it. Those small jabs would quickly evolve into spats. Not long after, my mother would shout, my father would begin laying into her and the screaming would finally begin. No one could possibly fathom how a lot of those times left me with the emotional pain and scars I tried to bury. But at that tender age, the only thing I could do was shut the door tight and push my face into the bolster my ten-year old body wrapped around, praying that I could lose my hearing just for the night.
“It was awful. I was young, but I’m 30 now. I’m old enough to know that they didn’t mean to hurt each other. They must have inherited some trauma from their own past, causing them to surrender their self control, to have their primitive brains take over tasks that,” I took a deep breath. “—tasks that empathy and logic should have been custodians of.”
When I was 12, I would think of how I would be better for them. Get better grades. Never missing a class. Making them proud. Maybe, just maybe if I studied harder and aced school, they would then be proud of me and not have to fight anymore. Even when I was enduring the terrible cycle of pain, I wanted to grow up faster so I could be better for them. And I had intended to find out how I could end the fighting. I would read all the books that taught self-control with empathy and logic. I had hope. A hope to release my parents of their own brokenness into wellness.
Then one day, she just left.
Mother left, and I remained right where I was, with just books to comfort me.
He laughed out loud, the kind of mocking laughter a man makes when he’s already had you once. I imagined he made a face of forced acceptance. “But your mother left you and your father in the end, didn’t she? God. She must’ve been fed up with how much space you took up in that house.” He was twirling his legs with such energy as he said it.
I inhaled deeply, then turned my face upward to the ceiling and held it for a long moment before I replied. “Stop it. You don’t know her. She had her reasons.” I shook my head, got up out of the bed, and began to pace toward the bedroom window with the city view, the sky looked so liberating. “You speak of her as if you knew her inside out. You know nothing about my mother.” I said, trying not to gaze at the reflection.
“Oh, but I was there. I was there when you spent those countless nights crying, the kind of weeping that could break a saint’s heart.” He came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me, they felt cold. He brought his lips close to my ears and whispered, “I was there. Even with that incident with your father, I was there by your side.”
After a lifetime of loneliness, I could not imagine what would break my spirit more than it did after my Mum left the house. But I learned that it was also dangerous when you tempt fate with such imaginations. My father learned to manage his temper and he left me alone to figure out a lot of things on my own. Fortunately, I could do it. But I had not expected life to drive him to a state where he would set himself on fire when I was 19. I got the call from the hospital. I had never run as fast as I did then.
When I found him in the ward, I could not recognise him. It felt strange to see this man who bore the resemblance to my father looking so lifeless on the bed. He looked up at me with his brown eyes flashing through the layers of pain—the eyes that were the only part of him I could recognize among the mass of white bandages and tannic acid that covered his burns. “They’ve told you I can’t survive, haven’t they? Don’t end up like me, son. Don’t make the mistakes I did because I lo—”
I never got to hear what he said until the end.
I’m not sure if anything would have changed if he had finished his sentence. But I recall, in that ward, I held my father’s hands in mine, closed my eyes and shed tears. The pain of my mother’s absence and my father dying with the wrapped burns, penetrated my soul. I struggled to make sense of it.
The one time I needed someone, Dad slipped away from my fingers, and Mum was harder to find than empathy at a psychopath conference. Somehow, that was when I started seeing him visibly too, at this time, this entity began to take shape.
From the outset, I put him in his right place in my mind, he was merely a friend of convenience and nothing more. But even then, I wasn’t so sure if it would stay that way. Somehow this being just found a way into my home and made it a comfortable place for him, for us. In fact, I was neither accommodating nor welcoming to him, but he seemed to be there at my lowest moments when no one was. Even if he was not particularly uplifting with his words, he was the only one there with me. It was not too long before he got involved with some of the new people I was getting to know. When things turned sour, and it was often, I had to force him back into the house and forbid him from following me outside. I wasn’t sure how many people had noticed how clingy he was around me then, and I certainly could not have told them of all the misery that lay behind my face, the pain that never left me, and the wounds that never really healed.
It was funny too because I would remember the hours I spent to get him to communicate with me on the same wavelength, but he always had a way of making everything sound so cynical. He was always trying to be nice, forming and giving me ‘helpful’ opinions at my worst times in the worst places. With all the effort he went through to be supportive, he sure had a way of making my own efforts to resume a normal life to appear insignificant. He said everything he did was for my own good. The longer I was with him, the more obvious as to what he was trying to teach me: Give in to him, and I will feel euphoria. It sounded too good to be true, so I never took up the offer nor did I even experiment with that idea. But hell, he stayed in my place for another 10 more years, trying to make everything about him and us. In his head, he said the two of us were soulmates—that we were perfect for each other. I didn’t want to believe all that because there were other things that had my attention.
Nothing could be more boring than the exercises assigned to me by my psychiatrist who checked on me three times a week. “Do something you enjoy! Depression can push you to give into your fatigue. It may feel more powerful than happy emotions. Try to push back and do something you love—something that’s relaxing, but energizing. It could be playing an instrument, painting, hiking, or biking. You told me you love to paint so paint the things you love. The next time we meet, you can tell me about it.” I’ve heard that a million times during therapy.
And then he would let out a chuckle each time I would look in the mirror as I try to motivate myself. Each time I would remind myself that I was loved, he would cheer me on, lead me to a false sense of security, only to say “Just kidding!” a few minutes later, followed by a snarling laughter with a slap to the knee. Nothing could be more frustrating than to try to write positive notes to myself only to see him correcting my spelling, turning my “I am worthy” into “I am unworthy” on the pieces of paper. Or to be writing poetry with him looking over my shoulders where I had to make words rhyme with “sad”, “depressed”, or “useless”, and he would make a scene if the poem wasn’t good enough for his standards. Or, worst of all, to sit facing my dressing mirror and have him touching me without my consent and reminding me that I didn’t need anyone so long I had him in my life.
“I have always been with you, and I am so fond of you, Chris,” whispered him cheerfully, “I just know you’ll be much happier with me. Forget the people that say you need proper help. You just need me to take care of you. And I will, I will love you so much that you wouldn’t find hope in anyone else but me. Because all this time, no one was there for you at your lowest except me. I tried to be there for your Mum and Dad. Too bad they broke too easily, but you? You’re special. You had always been the resilient one. It was so alluring, enticing.”
His grip on me was getting tighter, it had gotten more tense than the usual grip-and-whisper sessions we had previously. Usually, he‘d be all sarcastic, then start to apologize before he planted kisses on my cheek and my forehead. The room lights too seemed to be dimmer than normal. Also, why was his breathing getting heavier and his face getting closer as if he was going to kiss me on my lips? I had to get a glimpse of his face…
“Oh my god.”
I froze as soon as the words escaped my lips. When I looked at his face, what greeted me was the perverse pleasure gleaming in his eyes, his facial expression almost dehumanizing. Did he always look this twisted?
“What’s wrong, sugar?” His voice was low and icy.
“Oh my god. To think it had always been this way. It is ironic, is it not?”
“That for years you stood by my family, all the years that my parents were at each other’s throats, that the only thing that kept us from giving into our inner demons, was you.” The strangest thing happened, I felt his grip becoming looser. “I’ll never be good enough for you. But what I never understood was, why didn’t you let me die after all this time?” Only then did I remove myself from his grip entirely.
“Don’t you understand? You can’t die. I need you to be alive so I can feed on your misery. But it’s not just me. This isn’t a one-man show. This is a team effort! Don’t you realize you played a part in this too?” Where was the cynicism in his voice?
“Played a part in what?” I was surprised by his question until I remembered how I was letting him have his way then. I had allowed this person to take control of my life and the people around me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but as I stared into his eyes, I realised now that he was never meant to stay in this place. He wasn’t supposed to have this much power and control over me. And that all along, a truth was emerging: I wasn’t afraid of him; he was afraid of me. He was afraid that if I started seeking help in the right places, that if I had reached out to somebody for healing, then he would have nothing on me. I’m sure, though, that if I had reached out to even one person that cared for me – that saw my worth – it would’ve been enough to get rid of him. He would simply have to accept that I was bringing in other people and interests that gave me joy, and no one would have believed his word against mine.
When I look back now at those days of my childhood, time was distorted: But I knew that the periods where I couldn’t explain the things I felt, the occasions where my parents struggled to be civil in their own home, he had always been watching us. He drove my father into a state of apparently uncontrollable anger. And even when I grew older, and became somebody, I eventually had to go home again, and when I did, he made sure I paid a heavy price for my hours of happiness.
I can’t remember what I’d done this time; I just know I had been trying to paint a future. By admitting that I needed help, I was making a new start and taking the initial step towards the hereafter. I wanted to draw a line under the sorrow of my childhood, to relegate it firmly and irrevocably to the past—the past where my heart knew my family belonged to.
Even when he stood so close to me I could see every detail of his sneering face, I saw my own reflection in his eyes—broken, but not defeated. I still found him extremely intimidating and my feet were trying to take steps back. Yet I did not move. I did not want him to think for a second that I was afraid of him. I wasn’t anymore. I simply brought my hands to his face and touched his cheeks, almost caressing it and I said, slowly, in a normal and assuring voice, “I’m sorry for not being kind to myself. Today, I am forgiving myself. I am forgiving you. Not because you deserve it, or have stopped the grief that lingered. Today, I am forgiving myself, because I deserve it. I was never so sure, but I know now that I am the bigger person here. I’m alive and I’ve got a chance. And I choose to let go. I am letting you go.” I was so tired that it was a real effort to speak.
Depression moved his lips to have his say.
But nothing came out, tears welled up in his eyes.
They say sadness masks itself behind anger, yet anger never comes unless in direct self defence, and so perhaps I can credit this natural passivity with his willingness to cry and feel pain, to let his sorrow teach me more about my true nature and how fragile I was as a human. He turned, and I saw his back. I don’t remember if I have ever seen the shape of his back. He then let out a cry that almost broke my heart and as the last note of his cry trailed into the air, I began to experience inner peace. I didn’t feel so alone. Somehow, I was going to make it.
I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, all I knew for certain was that I never saw him again. For the first time in the longest while, I slept peacefully that night. As I began to drift into slumber, whimsical dreams of myself painting in a flower field while Mum and Dad laughed like strangers falling in love in their earliest exchange greeted me. I saw what resembled enrapturement to me. Extraordinary it was.
When I woke up the next morning, I searched for a photograph of my parents’ wedding in their bedroom. There it was in their dresser buried underneath a pile of old clothes. I held the photograph in my hand gazing on its yellowed surface—it was the most perfect memory of those two and I chose to have their smiles etched in my heart. I chose that photograph because in that moment, they were the couple they should have been, would have been, had it not been for the stress of life. In that 1987 snapshot, their unwarped personality was something so golden and sacred I wanted to cherish it forever. If I had been a great painter I’d sit with an easel and attempt to paint their marriage with splashes of love. But instead I just let the photograph make an impression on my memory. I saw my mother’s tenderness and my father’s youthful spirit. I needed those memories to stay with me, I needed them to soothe me when the bad ones threatened to erase all traces of those people I held dear, even in their absence. I wanted to recall everything that made them beautiful to keep me alive.
I wanted to live on.
I cannot recapture the past any more than I can escape it. But some of us can hope for love as well as understanding. When the world opens its eyes to mental health awareness, understand the weight it carries, and validate a person's state of being and emotions, everyday life will be a shade more pleasant. They say that Depression is just inside my head—they’re not wrong. Well, not entirely. But maybe through this story you will see just a glance of how Depression can be, and how terrifying it is as a physical manifestation. This is how Depression talks down to me and I want to fight it. To disregard a person due to their mental health is injustice to me. All too often, even when we are hurting, we jump into defense, anger, and sarcasm quickly and no one leaves the conversation as a victor. We give in to anger, instead of stepping away. We join in the crowd, instead of thinking for ourselves. We forget ourselves. Does this mean I'm wrong? Does this mean you're wrong? That's not the point. I just hope for all of us to be kinder, more compassionate to others. The world needs more love. It can be done; a simple message that you care for a stranger online or even a text to a friend to remind them how blessed you are to have them in your life. "I hope you're okay"—this sentence alone saves even just one person. Not everyone will read this message and agree with it, and that's okay. I still want to thank you for reading it. I hope you have a nice day wherever you are.