A brief guide to packing for the end of the world

It wasn’t actually the end of the world. It may have felt like the universe was colliding in on itself but the evening was actually quite still and dry. I don’t remember much of the sky or of the state that my bedroom was in when I got home, but I remember the closed doors.

The rabbit was out in the living room, no doubt making a mess, but I couldn’t think about that. I had been singing on my way home to distract myself. Somehow, not getting admitted to a psychiatric hospital felt like the greatest failing of my life so far. It should have been easy. You walk in, you say you would be better of dead and they just believe you. Not quite.

“You got here. You must have something to live for.” I can’t remember either of their names. One of the crisis nurses was wearing a pair of Dr Martens that were covered in pastel glitter. She kept touching her shoelace and adjusting it.

“It doesn’t feel like I do.”

“What are you going to do next?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well you’re going to have to look at getting another job.”

“I don’t know.”

“There is a Job Centre near where you live. You can contact Citizens Advice as well.” That was, in essence, how the conversation carried on. Hang in there. You have another appointment in December. 

I walked out with my overnight duffel bag that I had repacked after my hasty visit to the local Accident & Emergency department two nights before. I thought I would stay this time. No room at the inn. When I got home, I was acutely aware of the weight of my bag on my shoulder. I caught sight of my vivid red hair in the mirror and turned away before I could dwell. “My sister told me that she can tell which of her clients are really going through a breakdown because they show up with their hair dyed red.” It all made sense now.

I opened the door slowly so as not to hit the rabbit. I crouched by the fireplace and my leather giraffe. Completing a thought was unthinkable at the time. I stroked the rabbit instead. He felt like velvet. “I’m going to try and find a room elsewhere. I can’t stay here.” Somehow I wasn’t surprised even though the thought had never crossed my mind. There was no anger or resentment. I felt blank. This was my home and now it was going too.

I went to my bed and I cried. It was the sort of crying where you howl and scream and writhe because you can’t fathom crying in any other way. It’s as if something is trying to escape from you; as if the screaming will let something out or free you of the weight that is pressing heavily against your ribs. No matter how I screamed, it didn’t stop. I still don’t know what “it” was. I called my mum. It’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do. “You need to come home. You need to stay here for a while.”

How long is a while? Isn’t that the same as giving up? I would be better off dead. 

“Okay.” The answer to everything is just “okay”.

“Pack a few things and book a train.”

“Please can I leave now?” It was around 8pm; no time to travel to Central London and find my way through the city to get back to my family. It still felt better than doing nothing.

“I think you should leave in the morning. It’s late now; I don’t think you should be travelling now.” She was right. I screamed again and she cried too. I didn’t mean to make her cry. I didn’t mean to make anyone cry. If you were to get stabbed with a large, barbed fishing hook, it would hurt. A lot. But you can’t get it out, you can’t fix it without causing more pain. My brain was covered in barbs. “Put your things together. Keep me on the phone. It’s going to be okay.” It’s not going to be okay.

I hauled a suitcase out of the corner cupboard in my bedroom and swung it open. It still had some winter clothes in it. They remain in a pile on my floor. I dragged all of my clothes out of the cupboards and pawed through frantically for anything comfortable or meaningful. There were things I liked but I threw them back in the pile. They were too nice. I didn’t deserve to wear nice things. I chose my plain jumpers. I rolled up every pair of jeans and stuffed them in. I saw a photograph of myself and my brother at a drag show and carefully placed it between the four books I had decided I needed to bring home. My mother talked at me the whole time while I just chimed in with “I don’t know” every so often.

I put different toiletries and cosmetics in two different bags. I grabbed a handful of hair ties and pins and threw them into the mix. I opened and shut every drawer and door, looking everything up and down in a quick sweep before moving on. I decided that I needed my yoga clothes. I snatched up hats and gloves and mittens; my stuffed toy shark and a wombat and a small seated tiger; almost all of the underwear I owned; headphones and earphones and charging cables; a denim rucksack covered in iron-on patches shaped like cacti.

There was no system. It was as if the house were on fire and I was trying to gather up as much of my life as possible. Finally I ran downstairs, praying that the door to the living room would still be shut. It was. I didn’t want to be seen. I raided the bathroom and stalked to the kitchen to get my favourite mug. I told my mother that I needed it. She was still there on the phone, almost silent now. I went upstairs and heaved the suitcase shut, having emptied the contents of the overnight hospital bag into it. I carried on opening it fractionally and shoving in “one last thing” for a while, before turning off all the lights and falling into bed. I booked a train for the next day; Tuesday morning. I fell to sleep without noticing.

I didn’t have to set an alarm to wake at 6:30am. I pulled on an outfit that I had left out for myself the night before and I quietly lifted my heavy bag down the two flights of stairs and out of the front door. It was just about light and I could see my breath in front of my face. I called my mother again.

I’ll be gone before you get up.