Justin slapped me. I slapped him back. We continued for a few more rounds until he had me pinned down on his couch-come-bed, both my hands bound in one of his paddles. He hated that I called them that because of his body dysmorphia.
I forget how insensitive I am sometimes. But his hands are large, neat and masculine, and I thought that was a sort of compliment.
‘Enough!’ I yelled, breathily but laughing. ‘Stop. You can’t keep slapping me’
‘You started it! You kept hitting me! How is that fair?’
‘Well you shouldn’t slap me back. What if you were on the street and someone hit you, what would you do?’ I asked, straddling him holding his forearms.
We were fully clothed, and even though I told him we weren’t fucking anymore I still wanted to, and struggled to hold back my physical cravings.
‘I wouldn’t do anything. I’d walk away’ he said.
‘Exactly, so why is this different?’ He smiled, looking into my face. Searching for a sign.
‘Wait, why has this become serious all of a sudden? Are you actually mad at me? I thought we were just joking. You hit me first!’
‘Yeah but… I’m not mad. But now my face hurts’
‘So does mine!’
‘Okay. Let’s just not do it again’ I said stroking the back of his head. I kissed him and jumped off to resume coffee-making, which had been cast aside in favour of this sexually-fuelled boundary test.
Just like previous times, I felt confused and torn between my knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse and violence against women. But it was true- we were playing and I did hit him first. And it was true that we both felt pain from this stupid wrestle. I decided to deal with the moral quandary another time and just take him as he was then. A flawed and pervasive boundary pusher not unlike me.
The thing about having constant internal battles is that is comes with extra shit, like lot’s of sick leave, confused friends and weight gain/loss.
After making an impressive dent in the couch with my cat by my side, I decided it was time I try going to work. Halfway through the morning, my mother texted, “how is it going? did you make it to work?’ “Meh” I replied. “But not too awful?’ she asked, “I would like to quit very much” I said, regarding the employment, not life. “I know. Do you still want to go to Ikea later?”, as if Ikea can fix the low level dysphoria with its $1 sausages and cosy textiles- that soothing consumable crap that reminds you that life doesn’t have to be too deep. oh yeah, that’s what its made for.
It was ‘Are U OK?’ day at work and I was having none of it. I was NOT OK.
I wanted to reply that my life was slipping away from me and felt more productive at home plotting new ideas and researching writing grants, but I just couldn’t be bothered.
Personally, the ‘Are U OK?’ day campaign seems like it was created by a bunch of people without ‘issues’ came up with, because if you’ve ever been medication or hospitalised for your illness, having someone ask “are you ok?” is like asking someone in labour if they are in pain.
The constant worry from others that you’ll ‘do something silly’, the lack of financial stability, and the free advice “it’s just the job/meds/friends/environment /drinking/lack of exercise- that’s the problem- you just need a holiday!”
I can only speak for myself, but when you’re mental, you want to hide it. You want to keep it safe beneath layers of shame and guilt and late-night Uber Eats weight-gain.
My first experience of family and work knowing my struggles felt like I was being ‘outed’, which is terrifying because you’ve worked so hard to fit in and be ‘normal’ and appear as if you don’t analyse every single interaction and thought and end each night thinking ‘Why am I here? What’s the purpose of Everything?”
If I can’t answer those questions to myself sufficiently, there’s no way I’m getting out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to explain to your manager that your sick leave is due to existential doubt. It’s much easier to say you had gastro. Again.
I’ve been outed a few times, and each time I promise myself I’m not going to be ashamed and just embrace it. Easier said than done.
I met a guy on Tinder and things were going well. We organised a pool date which I had a mini panic about because it would mean I would be outed. Physical scars don’t hide. He saw my upper thighs and asked what happened. I hesitated for a minute and replied, “it’s from me…I did it”. He then told me about an ex-girlfriend who also had scars.
Then we changed topics and I felt a huge wave of relief, like I could now bask in the warmth of urine-concentrated kiddy-pool water with this person because he knew my worst secret.
I became a Missing Person
A week after a particularly bad episode, I went out to a gig and during the course of the night my phone died and I met a guy who I went stumbling home with. The next day I charged my phone at his house and a barrage of messages came through asking where I was and was I safe?
I called my mum and she explained that my friends had made a missing person report and it was all over social media and the news. This coincided ironically with mental health week,with world mental health day falling on October 10th.
An ex-boyfriend texted too, saying he saw me on the TV at the gym and it almost sent him flying off the treadmill. I would have enjoyed seeing that, I thought.
Overwhelmed by guilt, I accepted everyone’s opinions that I should be happy that everyone cared so much. But I wasn’t happy, I felt like there was a glaring spotlight on me when it should be on others who were actually missing.
As William Arthur Ward put it, “To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”
After a week of embarrassment and laying low, the tone of my friends texts had changed to “Missing or nah?” as a greeting, which was hugely refreshing.
All images authors own, except for title image courtesy of Leif Podhajsky.
I folded three twenty-dollar notes and zipped them into my track pants; beginning the dress-down role I was planning to take on. Each of my silver rings I squeezed off my sweaty fingers and chucked them next to the sink.
Next I took out some black eye shadow and rubbed it carelessly over my lids and a little beneath, attempting to smear it as roughly as possible. I took all the cards and my ID from my purse, leaving only a few gold coins in there for good measure.
Earlier that night I had been drinking with my mum at a bar in Carlton, and whilst riding home on the dark humid bike path that swayed through Park Street, I had a sudden urge to see how hard it would be to score Heroin.
When I got home I watched a documentary on Vice about the use of Krokodill in Russia, which is a cheaper alternative to Heroin, or added to it to make the hit stronger, which had increased the wave of recent deaths due to the extreme toxicity of it.
Maybe I’m fucked up. Maybe they’re ‘my people’, I thought.
I’ve never tried or bought Heroin; all my ‘street’ knowledge came from books, movies and former mental health patients who I used to eavesdrop on.
Four drinks deep, I find myself on a train heading to North Richmond station, already in character. Head down. Shoulders hunched. I feel like an amateur actor in a non-existent one-woman show. Can other people sense my fraud?
When the train hits Clifton hill, it turns around and I allow myself to swear out loud. A few young girls also look confused and we all get off at Westgarth. I start wondering if it’s worth getting an Uber. It might look a bit suspicious. I’m supposed to be a poor.
The girls approach me asking if I’m going into the city and we share an Uber to Richmond. They had all finished work for the night at a food truck in Thornbury and were heading back to their hostel. Two were German, one American. It occurred to me that I was talking to them as me, not my fake junkie persona, and was surprised how friendly they were despite how gross I had attempted to make myself look. I may not have talked to me.
It made me realise how privileged I was that even though I thought I looked a hot mess, I still appeared from the outside- trustworthy, relatable and (probably) middle-class.
I walked through the gardens of the housing commission flats, intersected by Elizabeth Street in North Richmond. I was stupidly calm and fearless. The streetlights glowed unnaturally over the playground making it appear like a film set. It was quiet and the air was light and lukewarm. I scanned around for human life and spotted a women pacing while talking to herself through a cigarette in her mouth.
Then I saw him, rummaging around in hard rubbish. Lit by a spotlight of fluorescent security blaze hitched on the side of the flats. It was like he was sent to me by the council flat Gods. It was too easy. I sidled up to him with faux anxiety and asked him ‘do you know like, where I can.. score?’ stumbling the sentence out self-consciously.
He bounced up with a wobble from the bin and stared at me, focusing his opioid-tinged eyeballs on my face. They strained to make me out in the shadow of the outdoor fluorescent lighting, like fingers reaching out- two snail antennas trying to feel their way in the wet and the dark. “Yeah maybe. I’m Anthony”, he said reaching out his non-bin hand to me, “whadda ya doin here at this time? Ya don’t look like you use?” he said squinting.
“I’m just out of rehab. I can’t fuckin’ do it, I need something to tide me over” I said without hesitation, surprised at the ease at which the lie slid out.
“Well you should know you don’t score at this time, you do it in the daytime. Too hard to get stuff at night but we’ll try” he said.
The original title of this story was “The night I Donated Sixty Dollars to a Junkie”, but after scanning conversations i’ve had with friends that have are still fighting addiction, I was mortified at how how insensitive and lacking in compassion it sounded. Not to mention that I was completely blind to my own moral culpability in the scenario I forced my way into. My assumption was that since Anthony used, it meant he wanted to- which is not true as any addict, including myself, can attest to. I felt like smacking myself in the head.
My intentions were at a surface level- to get a story, and perhaps at a deeper level- a pervasive death-drive; a sense of self-destructiveness that began in my teens. What I thought of previously as a ‘favour’ to this man– giving money to a homeless addict to buy us both drugs- now seemed to be so outlandishly privileged and fundamentally short-sighted that I can barely admit it to myself.
Why did I feel that I could use Anthony as a way of testing my boundaries with death? Why did I not want to tell my own story? I didn’t consider that I would be hurting someone else.
As he met up with a bunch of kids baggy clothes, he protected me by telling me to hide in the stairwell of the council flats. I stayed there for an hour under the blinking lights, listening to the moaning, shouting of the occupants of that floor. I became restless and found the communal laundry. Its smell comforted me, but it also made me aware that I was getting too comfortable.
I eventually needed the toilet so bad my bladder was busting the zip of my pants, and the stairwell, although it was swimming in piss ammonia, was not somewhere I felt like joining the club. I needed to get out. So, I did the only thing a well-educated dumb white-girl would do whose booze was wearing off and went to McDonalds, ordered McNuggets and fries and slipped quietly into an Uber home.
Anthony tried calling me twice and I let it ring out. I hoped he would be okay, while fantasising about the fresh feel of make-up wipes cleaning the night off my face and getting into bed.
It took me six months to start writing on this piece, even longer to admit it to another person. It was so obvious once I was sober that escaping pain is a misnomer- it catches up with you eventually, and the original pain you felt is magnified by the chemicals you use to disconnect yourself from your thoughts.
Three years after beginning my journey on dating apps, fuck-boi behaviour still slips through, parading as a ‘sex-posi dude who is interested in feminism and indoor plants’. I know. That’s like three red flags I missed.
“Did you know that the deadliest spiders are actually those that live underground, like the funnel web?” Isaac awkwardly reeled this off from his store of fun facts he used when lost for words or avoiding the massive elephant in the room. His Ute was claustrophobic in the heat and I felt like toddler sitting in the clunky and loud front cabin.
“I didn’t, that’s cool. So the dangerous ones are the most covert spiders? That makes sense, the little bastards.”
He dropped me off outside my apartment, and we leaned in for a Disney-appropriate kiss. I hesitated for a few seconds, but couldn’t get the words out. The need to avoid more awkwardness was stronger than the wish for honesty.
“Speak to you soon” I said and jumped out of the car without looking back.
Isaac never contacted me again but stayed following me on IG. Classic Fuck-Boi move.
Months later I posted a cartoon of a girl crying after a tinder date because she had been told she was a ‘crazy girl’. Because Women are crazy, and dudes are assholes, right?!
He texted me a day later saying how sorry he hadn’t messaged again and hoped I was alright and that he thought I was smart and attractive but didn’t feel a spark.
He believed that this cartoon was meant for him! That MONTHS later I would still be stewing about his ghosting enough to draw it and post it, like some passive-aggressive attempt to guilt him.
There are no words for how far back my eyes rolled or how loud I said ‘UGHHHH’. The irony was just too perfect.
I sent him a curt reply saying it was not connected to him and have a nice day.