An Unexpected Trigger

NOTE: Spoilers for Unforgotten Series 4.

Back in March, I watched the final episode of Unforgotten Series 4 and if you haven’t seen it – spoiler alert – Cassie, the main character (played by Nicola Walker), dies from injuries sustained in a car accident. It was incredibly shocking and upsetting. It’s something that’s been in my head on and off all year and I would really like to leave it in this year. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it now.

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As I said, I was very upset when the series ended with Cassie’s death. That’s not exactly surprising since I do get very attached to my favourite characters. Upset isn’t really a big enough word: there was shock, distress, grief, anger… it was overwhelming. And in an attempt to process some of these emotions, I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete,’ a snippet of which I posted on Instagram…

And while that helped a bit (coincidentally, it’s the second TV show featuring Nicola Walker that I’ve written a song about), I could feel it all hanging over me. It felt so shocking and so brutal and I felt oddly fragile in the wake of it. It was later that I learned about ‘the alienation effect’ after a researching rabbit hole that ended in me reading about the film, Psycho (a film I’ve never seen by the way – I’m looking at you, ADHD). In his essay about Psycho, film theorist Robin Wood wrote: “[The murder of the main character, Marion] also constitutes an alienation effect so shattering that (at a first viewing of the film) we scarcely recover from it. Never – not even in Vertigo – has identification been broken off so brutally. At the time, so engrossed are we in Marion, so secure in her potential salvation, that we can scarcely believe it is happening; when it is over, and she is dead, we are left shocked, with nothing to cling to, the apparent center of the film entirely dissolved.” I could be wrong – I’m not a film expert by any measure – but I think that’s what’s happened here; this quote certainly describes how I felt about that final episode. Cassie was the focal character, the audience surrogate almost, and she was the glue that held together a show that regularly changes almost the entire cast (along with Sunny and the rest of the team, of course) and her death was incredibly shocking. I’ve always felt things deeply but I haven’t spoken to one person who wasn’t upset by it.

While there were, of course, other factors impacting on my mental health, it was the trigger of that particular period of depression. But months later, even after my depression lifted a bit, I still couldn’t shake it. I still found it very upsetting and I was still having nightmares involving car crashes; as deeply as I feel things, this seemed to be sitting differently. Eventually, it occurred to me that it was potentially more than straightforward upset over the loss of a favourite character and the loss of a favourite show (maybe – I’m still not sure how I feel) and that the storyline – a sudden, completely unexpected, shocking death – had triggered me as a result of the trauma around my Dad’s death, trauma that is still relatively undealt with. It completely blindsided me. I’m still relatively in the dark on my triggers in this area, given that my coping mechanism for most of the last thirteen years has been to, essentially, bury it: facing it just felt insurmountable. But now that I’m starting to unearth it again, it appears that that earth is packed with landmines. The metaphor wears thin, but hopefully you get my point.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this but putting my thoughts into words has helped. This year has been so busy and so emotionally chaotic that I feel like I haven’t had the time or brain space to even start processing it all. In regards to the show, I don’t know whether I’ll watch the next series. Right now just the thought of it is upsetting. Nicola Walker said in an interview that “Cassie’s death wasn’t for effect; [Chris Lang, writer of Unforgotten] is going somewhere with that conversation about grief,” and while I think these are important conversations to have, I’m not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth for a fictional one when I’m already trying to manage my own very real one. I don’t know. But I really don’t want to go through this again if I can avoid it.

“Cassie’s fate may have caught viewers by surprise, but it was something Walker had discussed with the show’s creator and writer, Chris Lang. ‘We were talking from the beginning, really, about what he was doing with this character and this story he wanted to tell,’ Walker told TV Insider. ‘Chris and I were always interested in looking at the cost of being involved with these sorts of cases that we all love watching on television. Cassie does not have superpowers. She’s an ordinary person who’s really good at her job, and it took her to the place of having an emotional breakdown… We talked a lot after Season 3 about where it was going to go, and it was a joint decision,’ she adds. ‘I think the clues were there in Season 3. The title of the show is Unforgotten and I think there’s a great deal of narrative beauty to this woman. She’s not going to be forgotten. I felt like she was quietly very unusual on television because she was a real person.'” (x)

I keep coming back to this quote. I agree with it, with what she says about Cassie, but I still don’t understand why Cassie had to die, why she had to die in a shocking, brutal way. Maybe I never will. Most of all, I’m sad. I’m sad that a show I loved will forever be entwined with distress and painful memories.

Mental Health, Health, and Life Update (September 2021)

And that’s that. I’ve finished the final module of my Masters and therefore the Masters itself. I don’t know what my grade is for the module or for the whole course yet but frankly, I’ve got a lot to process before I can even really think about the grades and graduation.

Looking back at a similar post before the module started, I was excited about the project but nervous about my health, mental and physical, and whether it would prevent me from doing everything I needed to do, from being able to enjoy the process. And those were valid concerns so I thought, having written a post about how I was feeling before the module started, I’d write another now that it’s ended – like bookends.

A lot has happened since the beginning of May.

Over the last four months, I’ve spent almost every day working on my final project, researching, writing songs, and working on the production of an album. It’s been incredibly intense and now that it’s all done, I’m utterly exhausted, both mind and body. And while, for the most part, I loved it, it’s also a relief to be free of some of the anxiety around it (I’m still struggling with my anxiety around the grade). Having said that, I feel strangely lost and untethered now that I don’t have this big thing to focus on. I know that I need a break but I am looking forward to the next project, whatever that may be. I’m always happier when I’m doing things.

My mental health was pretty good for most of the module, surprisingly so. By my standards at least. I think that the constant creating and the creating of stuff I’m proud of really helped. I had one particularly bad episode of depression, plus a handful of smaller ones, and my anxiety was pretty constant but that’s normal for me. It got very bad in the last month, which was hard to manage – trying not to let it destabilise me was a bit of a battle in itself. It hasn’t quite faded yet. For various reasons, I didn’t have any access to my therapist, which was an unforeseen difficulty and that made things a lot harder than I’d expected them to be.

I also really struggled with my concentration. I’m still not getting any support for my ADHD (something that I hope will change soon but I’m still so frustrated that I couldn’t get any help with it during my Masters) so staying focussed on my project, on my research, took all of my energy. It was exhausting. I felt like my concentration was so, so fragile that a single moment of distraction would break it and then it would be impossible or would take days or even weeks to get back. So I couldn’t stop. Not for anything. That was very stressful and resulted in many, many long days. Sometimes I’d work all day without moving (not healthy, I know) and end up going to bed very late. And then, of course, I couldn’t sleep because my thoughts were racing. So it did a number on my sleep schedule too; I’m surprised I’m not nocturnal at this point.

That, plus the general fatigue I deal with day to day, meant I was tired all of the time. I’ve drunk an obscene amount of Red Bull (my antidepressants make me really drowsy, just to make things even more difficult, although I may be changing medications soon, which hopefully won’t have the same side effects) – I am beyond sick of the taste of it. But it got me through and I’m grateful for that. I will however be grateful to never drink it again (hopefully). And I’m really looking forward to getting both some proper sleep and some proper rest now that my work is done.

I also mentioned back in June that I’d been having migraines that seemed to be being caused by an abscess in one of my teeth. Since then, I’ve been on antibiotics twice, continued to have migraines, and am still waiting to have the tooth removed, a decision that was made at the appointment in June. Given how much disruption it was causing though, I did get extenuating circumstances which allowed me some extra time (although it wasn’t really extra since it was making up for time lost to a medical problem) to cope with those problems. It’s not bothering me presently which is a relief but I’m more than ready for them to take the tooth out, just so that they’re not even problems I have to think about.

While I managed to keep swimming twice a week – a routine I’ve been trying to maintain to create a solid foundation for my crappy joints – I was in almost constant pain throughout the module. At times, my right knee was so painful that I couldn’t walk on it and my back has been consistently painful; my Mum, who used to be a massage therapist, said it felt like trying to massage rocks and now that it’s all over and I’m trying to relax, the muscles feel like their made of concrete. Which is about as pleasant as it sounds. I’ve also had great trouble with my hands and wrists what with all the typing I’ve been doing. So, all in all, I’ve been a bit of a mess. I haven’t had any support for this – the hEDS – either; I’ve been waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy since December 2020 officially and May 2020 unofficially. I’ve just had to try and get by on various painkillers, none of which have been all that effective.

Despite working practically non-stop, I got everything for my project done just in time for my final presentation. My assessors were positive, which I’m trying to hold on to in the wake of my anxiety around the final grade. I’ve been really trying not to attach my self worth to my grades (something I’ve always really struggled with), or at least, lessen the power my grades have over me but I can’t help the fact that I really want to do well. I’ve worked so hard – with so many obstacles – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get a Distinction would be upsetting. I’d get over it but it would still be upsetting. I never want someone thinking, “Oh, she mustn’t have worked hard enough.” Or worse: I never want to think, “Oh, I would’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD or whatever” thoughts left over from my late diagnoses and the resulting difficulty I have in setting standards and goals for myself (more on that in another post). This anxiety isn’t helped by the fact that I keep thinking of things that I should’ve included in my presentation. My brain clearly hasn’t quite processed that the module is over.

And then, just when I thought I could relax, the world tipped under my feet. The next morning, my Mum told me that my Granny had died a few days earlier. She was ninety-three. Having barely started to process the end of my two year Masters and intense final project, this news was just too much for my brain. A few days on, I feel like I’m bouncing pretty erratically between two states, the first being this weird bubble where nothing can touch me and the second being, ‘if I stop thinking or talking or moving for even a second, I’m going to completely fall apart.’ It’s surreal and exhausting and sad. I’d like to write a piece about her at some point because she was such an incredible woman but I can’t really write more than this right now but it felt really important to at least acknowledge what’s happened because it’s so big and so important.

I don’t think there’s anything else to say right now. I’ve barely been able to wrap my head around this last week: my final presentation, the ending of the Masters, Granny, and everything that’s ahead given all of these things. It’s a lot to take in; I’m exhausted. I’m just taking it day by day.