I was rapidly reaching my mid teens when the grim reaper began to follow me like a lost puppy. He cast his shadow this time, always standing there, waiting for me to get to breaking point before he made his next move.
I was 17 when my cousin started having problems, at a family party my aunt talked about how my cousin had been in a lot of pain recently, the doctors said it was his posture and he needed to correct it. I didn’t think much of this, people get pains all the time. Poor posture is not uncommon.
I don’t remember the exact point when things changed or even how I was told, but eventually I was told that my cousins problem was not his posture, it was in fact leukaemia. Despite the shock of the last two deaths in my life I really only thought the best was going to happen this time. My cousin suffered with leukaemia for a long time, after infections and tests and hospital stays. Things seemed ok, they weren’t great but. It’s cancer, it never looks great.
I visited my cousin maybe twice, I didn’t say much, I didn’t have anything to say. I was depressed, I was going through a rough patch with my boyfriend. His female friend was affecting our relationship negatively, but he didn’t see it.
on the worst days I felt I had no one to talk to. I was too scared to discuss any of this with my friends, I went to school and I didn’t mention it. I was miserable, I was failing all of my classes. I became more and more the class clown, making stupid jokes, mocking teachers to their faces. I was the worst in my media lessons, I would be loud and obnoxious. I thought I knew it all, I knew a lot about pop culture to make a lot of obscure references. I drove my teachers crazy and I know I did. I wanted them to like me, but I also made it impossible. I used humour to cover my depression. Not once did a teacher ask me if I was ok, all they ever told me was that I needed to try harder. I guess they probably thought I was all about going out and getting drunk. At this point the only reason I really left my house was to see my boyfriend and he was less than understanding of how I felt at this point.
I was falling apart rapidly, I spent my lunch times at school fighting with my boyfriend on the phone. Crying hysterically in dark corners because he didn’t understand. And I felt guilty. Guilty because my cousin was in hospital with a serious illness and I couldn’t visit him because I was embarrassed at my lack of conversational abilities, embarrassed that I couldn’t hold myself together that I spent 70% of my time crying and the other 30% frantically cracking jokes to stop people from thinking there was anything wrong with me.
I was decorating my bedroom one day instead of studying like I should have been. My mum was upset she told me my cousin had taken a turn for the worse, he had, had to have his bowel removed because he had a bad infection. It was horrible, that’s when I knew things would never be ok. Even if he came out of the other side of the cancer he wouldn’t be ok. I hadn’t spoke to my boyfriend all day, he hadn’t responded to my texts and I had become agitated. But more recently we had spoken less and less. He was angry at me. I rang him in tears. I needed to talk to someone about what was happening, nobody else understood me, nobody else knew what was happening. I called him and got no response, I called again still no response. I was crying hysterically. I needed help. The guilt was hitting me again. I hadn’t visited him and now it was too late. He was not ok, did he know that I cared? Did he know that I wanted to help? Did he know that I would rather it had been me then him? I text my boyfriend begging him to call me. By the time he called me, I had cried as much as I could. I was sitting on the floor covered in wallpaper in silence. He asked If I was ok, he seemed annoyed, but I looked past it. I just needed to talk. I told him what had happened, but he wasn’t sympathetic. He told me he was in the hospital because his friend (the girl who was causing problems in our relationship) had tried to commit suicide. He told me he didn’t have time to help me today. He put the phone down and I cried again. The one person I thought would be there for me at this point wasn’t. And it really crushed me.
A few weeks later it became clear that there was nothing else they could do for my cousin and he was going to die. They told us he had a week max. I saw him on the Sunday, he wasn’t responsive, I’m not sure he knew we were there. I instantly felt guilty. I hadn’t visited him in the year he was sick and now it was too late. He was going to die and he probably didn’t even know I had been there. I didn’t speak for the whole time we visited. As we were leaving my mum burst in to tears she cried and my family comforted her. I stood there in silence because I wasn’t upset. I was angry at myself.
He died the next day, my brother went to visit him again but arrived too late. I called my boyfriend and hysterically told him what happened. He told me it would be ok. My cousin died in the November, in august I had failed my A levels, in the August i had broken up with my boyfriend. My world had crashed around me, I was broken and hurt. I felt like I had nothing. All of my friends were moving away to university. I felt guilty, about not being there for my cousin, guilty for not being a good friend, guilty for not being a good girlfriend to my boyfriend who moved on almost instantly. I hid away. I was not ok. Guilt was eating me, destroying me. The only thing keeping me sane was my job which I would crawl to and from each weekend. And the college course I was focusing my attention on.
The Elephant in the Room.