Clara Barnhurst

It’s hard work, this living business. I’m not talking about being a functioning human. I’m talking about remaining a breathing, thinking entity. The feeling part is particularly hard - it’s a haze that delays thought and clouds action. It negates drive, limits experience, distances the self from the self. The sheer energy in feeling creates a problem to solve all on its own.

Sometimes, the act of being is so tiring that I can only sustain it for short bursts before withdrawing into the self. I’ll have an exchange, laugh, then stop and pull inward. That’s enough humanity for the brain to cope with, thanks. Time for a break. It could be called sadness, but it’s actually exhaustion. I’m happy in the moment, I just can’t deal with the stimulus.

I rang a crisis line for the first time ever the other day. A charity in the UK called Samaritans. I didn’t really know how it worked; a friend told me to put the number in my phone after writing about testosterone poisoning and how it was making me feel. I just knew they would talk to you and you didn’t have to give them a name. The anonymity was important: I don’t trust the NHS, specifically the gender clinics, to look after me should I crash out and decide living is just too hard.

The person on the other end was very nice and just offered gentle responses to my ravings about how I felt unsafe, how I didn’t want to leave my room ‘cause there was noise downstairs and I’d been assaulted enough in the house to know not to leave. How I had a big bag of blood pressure medicine and the idea of just slipping away into unconsciousness from low blood pressure sounded perfect. They didn’t try to stop me. They just contributed in moments. I ended up taking an hour and a half of their time.

My fiancée arrived shortly after the end of the call, and by then I was calmly crying in a heap, clinging to my duvet, depleted. I hadn’t been able to speak freely with someone about my mental health until that point. Friends and loved ones are wonderfully supportive, but I worry about upsetting or scaring them. Health professionals tied to the NHS are risky individuals that might have an impact on my treatment in the short to medium term. But this person was utterly unknown and I remained unknown over the course of the call.


I was free to cry and babble. Blubber away about the things tearing at my mind. I didn’t feel unburdened. I didn’t feel better after the call. I felt worse. I felt like I’d opened a box of darkness I was keeping firmly bolted down. Life is hard.

Accompanying the hardness of living is the unreasoning guilt at taking up space. I’m here, I’m productive, I’m functioning for the most part. I have people who love me and support me, and I feel terrible about it. I know that I’m not some kind of affront for existing, but that doesn’t stop me feeling terrible about being around for people to trip over and converse with. I have a constant need to justify the air I breathe.

So far, that justification has been to work harder. Do more, be there for people. Don’t take up space you’re not using. My sense of self worth isn’t helped by these things, but they do stop me from being alone in my thoughts too much. I felt incredibly guilty calling that person the other day and offloading the torrent.

A regular at the pub asked me what I was writing yesterday. I hesitated before telling the truth: my relationship with depression, anxiety and suicide. “What, yourself? You have these feelings?”


“Well done for getting past them, well done,” he was an elderly fellow, somewhere in his eighties; I was touched by his concern.

“So far, anyway.”

“Don’t say that, don’t say that. You’re doing the right thing by sharing. It’s good to share.”

I suppose it is, though I feel that sharing is a crime against those around me; a source of worry. I frighten people and I hate that. Sharing is necessary. It keeps me alive. Sharing is guilty work.


That guilt never goes away. That sense that I’m taking up space that someone else might be able to occupy. That idea that perhaps I should make some room for a real person isn’t a thing I can shake. I understand that none of this is true, but that doesn’t stop me feeling that I’m a blight.

It’s self centred of me, but that’s why I keep writing. It’s how I share. I’m the biggest fraud I know, but it keeps me alive. It stops me from hurting myself, mostly. That people listen is the biggest shock, but it doesn’t transfer into a sense of importance or belonging. The guilt deepens.

Despite all this, I am glad that people seem to get something from my ravings. That people seem to value what I produce makes the sharing OK in my mind. It justifies the act; makes it permissible. I have no understanding of what it may be like to be free of the looming storm cloud of guilt. How would it be to breathe without worry that the air isn’t mine to use? I don’t know.

I might call the Samaritans again. It seems to be the way I can let the ugliness in my mind loose. Maybe that is the kindness I need to afford myself. I suppose I’ll find out. Until then, I have to thank the people who endure my words and allow me to share. Whether you are aware or not, you are part of what keeps me here.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

You echo my thoughts in so many ways. Fortunately I have a therapist that I talk to once a week. She's been a life saver, and whats more, she's helped me to realize where these things come from and how to refocus my thoughts so that they are more productive. I still have my moments though, and keeping on top of my feelings is an almost constant job. But it isn't nearly as exhausting as dealing with a deep and abiding depression as I have nearly my entire life. I hope that you continue to fight to stay here, I enjoy your writings very much and I look forward to reading more.

TU Articles