Back in June, when I first bared myself in this magazine (not like that – this is page 57, not three), the New Statesman’s Official Funniest Writer, our TV critic Rachel Cooke, emailed to tell me a little of her own story of the ending of something she thought would never end, and to offer some encouragement. “It was like being ill,” she wrote. “When I felt better, which took less time than I expected, I felt so incredibly well… like Superwoman, or something.” At the time I couldn’t imagine feeling human, let alone superhuman. Well, reader, she was right.
Perhaps it is only temporary, and the crash, when it comes, will be all the worse for the high – like the hill I enjoy whizzing down every morning on my bike, only to struggle up on my way home. Perhaps it is the antidepressants finally kicking in. But I have spent too much time questioning why I feel better on the days I do: what if contentment is really numbness? And if I am OK without him, is he OK without me? (I do not want him to be.) I will take the good days when they come.
Perhaps it is the change of season. The pressure of summer to be having the Best Time Ever – to be your most tanned, most fun self – is only exacerbated when you are, in fact, having the Worst Time Ever. I have to refrain from screaming every time I receive an email beginning, “I hope you’ve had a good summer.”
While others decry the shorter days, the long nights indoors, winter is my favourite time of year. I loved it long before Game of Thrones told us it was coming. I love the bright, blue days that smell of crisp, sharp newness, and feel like a gift when they arrive. I love the clothes: the layers, the leather, the wool. I love the mohair, cobalt and fluffy, on my knitting needles. I love the food: abandoning the pretence that anyone prefers salad to mac ’n’ cheese, and hiding the effects of such a diet under the aforementioned layers. It is telling that for my first trip outside the UK for nearly two years, I have chosen not the Algarve, like everyone on Instagram, but Denmark and Sweden.
This year the lower temperatures are accompanied by some sense of a sort of normality returning. I feel more clearly, purely myself than I have in a long time – maybe years. Those heavy, clouded mornings when I struggle to wrest myself from bed are less frequent, and the years ahead no longer feel like quite such a life sentence. I fill my sketchbook with things to sew, to knit, to paint, and the novel I have been talking about writing for years now exists, in small parts, on paper, rather than simply in my head. I have been to the cinema three times in the past week (Bond, The Alpinist, The Nest – decent, better, brilliant, since you asked). After the last, I walked out into a billboard-bright Piccadilly Circus, artificial white light on my face despite the night sky, and the idea that I could ever have left this city that I love to move across the Irish Sea suddenly seemed laughable.
It is curious, once a relationship has ended, to observe the ways you – naturally, inevitably – bend yourself to fit around someone else, define yourself against the other (my ex, for example, was extroverted to the extent that I was labelled, and so became, more introverted than I am). I have never considered myself brave because I am not, in the conventional, physical sense, daring. But I am realising that just because my “adventures” don’t involve goat-like feats of coasteering, or breaking up fights involving a chainsaw (a true story, which he loves to tell), it does not mean they aren’t adventurous. I sign up to new things with the energy of a first-year student at a freshers’ fair, paying £30 a pop for societies they will never actually attend (the two I stuck with: ballroom dancing and the university’s feminist magazine). This week, it’s a strongwoman course; next, a weekend in Aarhus, alone.
My old life is shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces, and I know I will be picking the shards out of the tender soles of my feet for a long time to come. But the worst of them are, I hope, swept away. I remind myself of what my mother has told me on the numerous times over the past months that I have called her to say, “I can’t do this”: “You can, and you are.”
This article appears in the 13 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Perfect Storm