My Name Is Tasmin
My name is Tasmin.
My story isn’t so much about mental illness, as it is about coping with trauma.
Coping with emotions and feelings, that are strong and, at the time, well, very difficult to understand.
I’ve always understood coping to be like a scientific equation. Like the one they teach you in that one brief P.E lesson right? The grieving process: a formula. Get through steps A, B and C, and you will be back on the road to normality in no time.
As I soon discovered, this isn’t the case. Being human comes with some flaws. We have emotions, mood swings, good days and bad days. We also have triggers, which are unique to our personal experiences.
The last text message Ryan ever wrote to me was “you should listen to this song”, with a link to a song called “You have someone who loves you”, by Izzy Bizu. At the time I was partying in Amsterdam with some backpackers I had met in my hostel. Ex-boyfriends were the least of my worries.
Ryan loved sending me music links for new songs he liked, even though we had been broken up for five months. After six years of being together he knew I only listened to music from my parents’ generation. My mum and dad brought me up on Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, and America. My dad used to sing when we would drive around in his van. I remember him substituting my name into the lyrics of the songs. It was lame, but I loved it. When my dad left these songs became nostalgic for me. Music is a powerful healer. I think my dad lives a little bit through these songs too, they have helped him get through his own battles, but that’s another story. That song Ryan sent me will haunt me for the rest of my life. Ryan was a shoulder for me in so many ways. Losing him was like kicking a leg out from under my chair.
I heard the news from his uncle. That morning in Berlin. I had woken at 7am to pack for the bus to Prague. I was on the bottom bunk. Ali was on the top.
I had so many missed calls. I still get anxiety thinking about it. Dad. Mum. My heart escalated. All I could think of was my sisters. I wanted to vomit. I almost did when they didn’t answer. There was a third person who had tried to call me. Brett. Ryan’s uncle. He answered first ring.
“Ryan has passed away. He fell from the headland at Bangalley.”
Sobs and croaks. I screamed for Ali. She was all I had and I will never forget her response. Within a day I was on a plane. The hours in-between are foggy. Landing in Sydney, my world was spinning. After my second night without sleep, I insisted my dad take me to his family down south. The next few days were sleeping pills and photographs. I picked up his clothes. His wetsuit. His surfboard. All for the funeral. I made a montage of some candid photos of him. I helped write speeches. I dug up an old poem to read to him. He couldn’t hear me. He was still wearing his bracelet. Our friendship bracelet. The funeral was beautiful. So uninterrupted and civilized. He would have been drunk and running amuck. If he wasn’t trapped in a coffin.
One night, months later, I remember everything hit me like a brick. I vomited.
Months went by. I cried a lot. Alone. With friends. With family. I started having panic attacks. Music and art became my savior, if I didn’t have creative outlets I don’t know how I could have soothed my mind. Using my hands to make things has always come naturally to me. I never thought it would be a source of healing. I have never been so concentrated on my art. It became my passion and my doctor.
It has been one year and four months. I think about him every day. I still cry. I have photos on my computer that I still haven’t been up to sorting through. But that’s ok. If there’s any advice I can give others it’s take your time.
The most meaningful thing anyone ever said to me came shortly after I went back to work. A colleague said “would you trade all the grief to have never known him at all.”
Because of Ryan my dad has found a new purpose in life: looking after me and my sisters. My mum and my dad have become friends because at the funeral, they had a reason to talk again. My sisters and I have never been closer, even though sometimes we are worlds apart. Ryan sewed my life back together.
I still miss him every day. Memories burn, and when they feel distant it hurts. I don’t want him to become just a part of history. My friends encourage me to talk about him, which I love because he was a menace and I always have a funny story. Sometimes I feel like I burden them by bringing down the mood. I don’t feel that way when I talk to his mum and brother. And his two little sisters. His dad and step mum. His family and I reminisce a lot and I think this is therapy for all of us.
I go up to Bangalley every once in a while. The exact events of that night are still uncertain, although I have come to terms with the fact that I may never know what exactly caused his stumble. I feel guilty that I wasn’t home. I often wonder if it would have been different if I hadn’t broken up with him. Would he have been less reckless if he wasn’t missing me? Would he have come to my house and tried to see me first? Who knows. I will never really know.
I think one of the hardest things about grief is understanding our own mortality. We are all on this twisted conveyor belt headed towards the end of our existence. It’s a scary thought if you let yourself dwell on it. When I get stuck in these thoughts I find the best therapy is taking time to do something that makes me happy. For me, that’s anything crafty that makes a mess, or plucking my ukulele in my garage. It’s different for everyone. I’m so lucky to have these ways to express myself. For the first year I kept a journal too, writing down your thoughts for the day is not only a form of venting, but it landmarks what you were thinking for the future you, who may hold a greater appreciation for the struggles you overcame.
I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in God or heaven. I think Ryan would be pissed if I tried to say it happened for a reason. His accident is an example of why we should look out for each other when we are drunk. His life is an example of how we should all live a little more, and care about what other people think of us a little less.
Pretty cool that I now have a song that tells me he still loves me. Sometimes all I want to do is tell him I love him back.
Grief is a process, but it certainly doesn’t have dot points. Take it a day at a time. Use your friends and family. They don’t know how to start the conversation, it is up to you.
Written by Taz Witkamp @artbytasmin
Edited by Paris Jeffcoat & Samantha Callender
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.