CW: Eating Disorders, Death, Self-harm & Suicide
Most people see New Year as a totally inconsequential thing, in fact, the ‘new year, new me’ mantras are widely mocked and belittled by for being hollow. Time is a man-made construct, yet so many people find hope in thinking that the new year will be better than the last, despite only days separating them. Why only change your life on a Monday of on January 1st? Why not on a Tuesday of the 27th of the month?
I am someone who changes all the time. I perpetually give myself monthly challenges intending to improve my professional performance, mental health, emotional stability and personal growth. I check in with myself and review how I want to change my personal and professional life every month, so new year never feels very different to me.
However, this new year was different.
I started off the last decade holding the mangled body of my beloved cat who was killed by a car just two hours before the New Year of 2010. I watched the fireworks from a car with the box containing her body sat on my lap on my drive down to my aunt’s house in Kent where we buried her the next day.
I started the new decade knowing she wouldn’t be in my life anymore. The only thing that kept me going through the hell that was school and my depression was dead. The only thing I loved and who loved me unconditionally was taken from me, and I entered the new decade alone.
People who don’t have connections with animals scoff at my bond with my cat, but my cat kept me alive the nine years prior. When she walked in on me when I was eleven, I stopped harming myself because I didn’t want her to see. When the boys at my school were stalking me outside my bedroom window, threatening to kill me and rape me, she sat on my lap as my phone buzzed frantically with their vile threats. She was there to listen to me when the girls had rejected me at school, had stolen my stuff or ruined my artwork and homework. No matter how much I felt the people in my life hated me, she was always there. She didn’t care that I was ugly, unpopular, overweight and dorky. She was the love that got me through the decade.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you,” I told her one night as I thought about leaving for university. She was sat on my pillow, staring at me, purring contently. I didn’t need to wait for much longer to find out.
I went to university and remained alone. I was still ugly, unpopular and dorky, but this time, I didn’t have my cat to hold on to. Within a few months, I stopped eating. I developed life-threatening anorexia which stole my early twenties from me, including the only holiday I took that decade which was a trip to Greece. Except, being under four stone meant I couldn’t withstand the heat and had to spend most of my time indoors. The heat caused me, at one point, to lose my eyesight for a few hours and I collapsed on the marble bathroom floor in the hotel.
I thought I was dying
I knew my eyes were open but I couldn’t see anything. My nose was bleeding, and I chipped my front tooth at the bottom which is why they’re odd lengths to this day.
Over the last decade, I attempted suicide four times. One attempt was nearly very public, but a friendly station guard called me over and asked if I wanted to come and chat to him, away from the tracks.
I spent the majority of the last decade very frightened and lonely. I felt out of place and unloved for so many years, and it wasn’t until I moved up to Scotland halfway through the decade I discovered my worthiness and ability to be loved by those around me, even those who don’t know me.
Whilst I understand the somewhat empty significance of new year resolutions, Hogmanay is a special time here in Scotland. The rest of the world calls it New Year’s, but in Scotland, it means something more than drinking, parties and watching fireworks (although we don’t hold back on any of that stuff, I assure you. You want to know a good time, go to Scotland for the 31st of December).
Hogmanay is all about community, friendship, one’s humanistic and intrinsic connection with the strangers you stand side-by-side of as you all watch the darkness gleam with colourful fires. Those with dark hair knock on our doors and bring the new year into our homes with a glass of whisky in their hand and strangers who met just mere seconds ago hold hands and kiss cheeks as we all embrace the new dawn (and a cheeky couple of days off from work).
Scotland taught me how to love my fellow man, regardless of my relation to them. When I was frail, bony and weak people saw me as a person and not as a mental illness. They talked to me like I was intelligent and sane. They weren’t afraid to associate with me, touch me or even hug me. When I was living off less than £350 a month, Scotland treated me with respect and kindness. When I was scrambling around to find twenty pence to buy a carton of soy milk, a man behind me paid for me without even telling me. When I was lost and confused on my first day in town, a woman touched my hand and asked if I needed help.
And my god, I needed help and Scotland gave it.
Scotland filled the void that only a tiny, soft, brown cat had ever filled before. Scotland and its people made me feel seen, loved, worthy and welcome. Scotland made me realise I belonged somewhere in the world, despite living my whole life feeling like an unwanted mistake the world couldn’t get rid of fast enough.
When I lost my cat, I never thought I’d have the place in my heart for so much love again. Yet here I was, starting a new decade in a room of people who loved me despite not really knowing me and with a small, nine-month-old puppy, whose very existence has brightened my life more than she could ever know.
I really should have died last decade, but I didn’t and I’m so grateful to have lived to see all the lives I met and who made me become a better person. I’m grateful for all the books I read over the past ten years which inspired me to write and develop a literary spirit.
I’m grateful to have lived to meet Scotland and become part of her family, but most of all, I’m grateful for that wee cat who died before the last decade began, because it was only through her love and devotion that I had so much more love to give to the world and she’ll always have a part of that, even though she’s no longer here to feel it. I still feel her’s.