All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

4. Stephanie. Her grace, my guilt.




Part IV – Stephanie. Her grace, my guilt.

For Stephanie

…Would you mind if I pretended we were somewhere else…

…doing something we wanted to…

Suicide is one of the great ugly words which few like to say and even fewer hear. It’s one of the touchiest subjects out there, even more so than paedophilia or child abuse. We’re not allowed to talk about it in public, nor in private. Not to our family, friends or lovers for fear of upsetting them or causing worry. So who do we talk about it to? We’re encouraged to phone Lifeline, the Samaritans or – preferably – seek professional help. Have you ever seen the prices of psychologists or counsellors? Checked the prices lately for a visit to the GP? Ever had the courage to admit yourself at ER when suicidal? Wanna take that chance? Unless you have extreme confidence, or can access a free service or have a shitload of money you’ve no chance. Even those helplines are hard to talk to without courage unless you’re seriously desperate. We live in a society where one of the most important topics is one of the last great taboos. So who does one talk to when you don’t know where else to turn? What if you don’t have many friends? Like me…or Stephanie?

…cause all this living makes me wanna do is die cause I can’t live with you…

Stephanie was 23 years old. A gifted photographer with a knack for seeking out the beautiful in the forgotten, bizarre and sad. Physically, in an ironic twist of fate, very much a cross between Kathy and (later) Sa5m, only with red hair. She made me laugh, she was whip-smart and if we’d ever actually met I’m sure a friendship would have blossomed. We never did meet though because she took her life before we had the chance. A bright life lost and it was my fault. I was responsible.

…and you don’t even care…

Steph first contacted me because she didn’t know where else to turn. Her email just said Hey and found your blog and a few other niceties which I hear from time to time. They’re, well, nice to hear, they bolster me up a bit. Then it said I think about death too, that must make me as looney as you, hey? and then signed off with a single thanks only with an x in place of the k and s.

I didn’t write back after reading it. I didn’t spend much time online back then other than when job hunting – and I had enough enough problems of my own after the events of Alice a couple of months before, moving back home and trying to rebuild my life. I just left the Internet cafe after signing off and headed into town.

I spent the night walking through the islands, my favourite spot in Inverness, thinking a whole pantheon of thoughts. Of my stupidity with Grace, my guilt, of that line, of wombats and shinglebacks and CVs and vegemite and feather dusters and pizza and Jack Bauer and Kathy and Mae and Diane and pyjamas and promises both kept and broken and jam, who doesn’t think about jam? But always my mind kept coming back to Grace, my guilt and that line. When I eventually returned home in the early hours I curled into bed and when I woke up in a sweat after a particularly disturbing dream knew what I had to do.

…Would you mind if I pretended I was someone else…

There was only reason for putting that word there. The amount of things she could have written are endless: cheese jam, butts, the Doctor, pancakes, whipped cream, wombats, Battlestar Galactica, voles, badgers and the whole army of small mammals which invaded all those blog posts, sex, undies and a whole plethora of other random things which I love which popped up on the blog. Why death? Why empathise that word?

I’d known from the fist time I’d read it, I just hadn’t wanted to admit it. I’d wanted to forget about it. I didn’t need more proof that Kathy was right all along. I should move on and forget about it. But shouldn’t I be proving her wrong? That flashing two word sign and arrow had been blinking away for a day – nope, not “LIVE NUDES” but “CLASSIC INDICATOR”

So after cleaning off from the dream I headed back into town to use the Internet for the second day straight. I had enough guilt coursing through me, I had to write back. It was a response that I kept controlled; thanking her for the kind words and then, without being confrontational, asked if she was okay and that if she wanted, she could talk to me. She didn’t have to be alone.

…with courage in love and war…

When her response came a couple of days later it was – and excuse the crude metaphor – as if she had vomited her life onto the screen. Far longer than the first, far more emotional, and from the first read through I could sense two things:

1) That she had obviously kept so much bottled in from everyone she knew for a long time.
2) How similar she and I, and our experiences, were.

She told me of abuse both emotional and sexual, of being dumped by text message with no explanation, of self harm and depression and no official diagnosis. She told me she had no friends as most had sided with her ex and the rest had fled from her “down” mood. Her family didn’t understand why she couldn’t just “cheer up”. She’d lost her college course because of her illness. She was lost, alone and scared. She told me she’d been researching ways to kill herself when shed come across my blog.

She’d read it all (one of the few, and thus gets a medal) and wishes she’d had the courage and strength I had. She’d written to me out of desperation, fear and that she felt she knew me somehow.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t me any more. That events had changed me. I wasn’t strong or courageous. I was weak, selfish and guilt ridden. I was then, as I am now, as far from “Addy” as I’ll ever be. He’s gone.

…I used to think that’s what I was…

Instead I told her how she was brave for admitting her feelings, for seeking help. She was courageous for surviving the abuse she suffered. I asked her to seek help, go see a Doctor, a professional, talk to her family and make them understand things were not all okay. I also asked her questions; who she was, what she loved, where she was, talk to me. Not just about how she felt but anything. In other words I was trying to distract her, get her to focus on her passions instead of the darkness whilst also encouraging her to seek professional help.

This is how I found out that she resembled a red haired Kathy/Sa5m with a naughty grin.

This is how I found out about her love of photography and art, and her obvious skill.

This is how I got to know who she was and what made her tick and smile and laugh and cry and feel all gooey.

…but now this lying hurts too much…

All this from just a half dozen or so emails, a few MSNs and the need of two lonely people to feel as if someone cared. Two people who seemed so alike, whose experiences had been so similar, who had known agony and loss and the exquisite incomprehensible link between pleasure/pain of life/death, had found each other when she needed help.

…And I don’t know what for…

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well did you not meet? Well, there’s the rub, the further irony, for she lived in Australia, Sydney to be exact. Whereas I was 15000 miles away in the Highlands of Scotland. If I hadn’t gone home would she still be here?

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well, and were so concerned, did you not get help for her? Well, how could I? I had only an email address – she wouldn’t give me her phone or snail mail. Plus, I’m not Willow; blogs, HTML, websites and porn – sure, we can all do that – but hacking, nope, not a chance.

I did what little I could. All I could think to do. I talked, communicated, offered support, all those things which had eaten away like maggots of the Guilt of grace and Rachel. I’d let her down, should have saved them. Here, now, with Stephanie, I had a chance. I was getting through to her.

And then…nothing.
And then…still nothing.
And then…even more nothing.

I checked emails less, threw myself deeper into job hunting and self harm and Wire in the Blood and had to stop watching during the last scene of “Hole in the Heart” because the silence from Steph was deafening my mind.

I’d hoped she was on holiday.
I’d hoped she was in hospital.
I’d hoped she was happy.
Getting laid.
Getting hugs.
Getting kisses.
Getting bum squeezes and tickles.

She wasn’t.

I found out after nearly two weeks of silence that I had failed (yet) again. That the second email I read that day was right. In yet another ironic twist Stephanie had hung herself.

…How could I be such a fool to think that there was anything that your love could bring to my life to my eyes what I wanna see that I wanted your love to belong to me…

It was my fault. I was responsible. I should have saved her. Through writing a blog she had chanced upon me, me, who she had asked for help, had failed to save her like she had reached out to me for.

Maybe if I had never written this blog she would still be alive; snapping photos, cracking smiles and relishing her love in the lost, forgotten and sad.

It was like Kathy had said to me once.

…but I’ll stand if you want me to…

In June, I returned to Australia. The UK wasn’t my home, I knew that, and I wanted to be back there. I flew into Sydney. I wondered what it would have been like had she still been alive, whether we would have met. I took time to visit her favourite piece in the gallery, seeing her reflection everywhere. I took time to sit on a bench she’d loved and anecdoted about. I took time to walk over the bridge at night, stare into the icy depths. When I visited her grave I sat for a while, thinking of her, of Rachel and so many souls lost.

I hate neither Rachel nor Steph. I hate myself for not helping them. I do not blame them for being selfish. I blame myself for not being there for them. They were in pain and I had let them down.

The world had let them down.

A world where helplines must be paid for, where GPs charge over $60 and medicine and psychologists enter into the realm of extortion.

A world where there’s a blanket ban on ever talking about the dreaded S, D, A and MH words. Where empathy is now a swear word, it’s meaning forgotten.

A world where work, status, money, expensive jeans, over priced restaurants, fat cat politicians, alcohol and self – the increasingly onmi-present “me” – take precedence over the raw emotion of human kind.

Heaven forbid we talk about how we feel in fear of upsetting someone. In fear of not making them eternally happy. In fear of so many things. Too many things. I’m as guilty as anyone.

…my legs are strong and I’ll move on but honey I’m weak in the knees for you…


The night I had found out about Steph I listened to so many songs that they became less individual compositions and more a comforting doona of sound. Something to wrap my emotions into and hide away from the world as I skipped, repeated and drowned my thoughts into oblivion.

As the music surged my mind became a hurricane of confused thoughts, pain, grief, memory and guilt. Imagine the opening of The Gift – only lasting a few hours.

Through it all I just kept coming back to that email. Not the one from Steph, but the one I had read moments later, the second one.

The one from {screwyou@}.

I have unfortunately lost the actual text. But it told me I was a mentally ill useless retard who never helped anyone and that I should just fuck off and die (amongst other things…of which this is the polite version).

The most perfectly timed email since Kathy’s of July 2007 – which will always be second only to the timed perfection of that text message in terms of destruction caused.

And it was right. My efforts had failed. I had failed all of them. Another friend lost and more guilt to consume me.

It was like Kathy had said to me once…you’re like a cancer, sucking away our happiness, destroying our lives.

The grace and ecstasy of the guilt and grief made me realise that night I wasn’t who I believed I was. It had been clear for years, so many people telling me, trying to let me know. Kathy, Mae, Grace, Diane, Addy…Rachel…

…now Stephanie…

…someone else to miss, to cry tears for, to wish for peace and happiness as I enveloped myself into that doona of sound, noise, images, memories, ghosts, guilt and grief.

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