I used to pride myself on never being sick. Not that I wouldn’t take a sick day if I needed one, I just… didn’t ever really need one. Especially not during Christmas In July.
A Yuletide summer is a big thing if you work for a long-lead magazine (which I did) and are Acting Head of Food Testing (which I was), leading a team through the festive taste-test period for the UK biggest women’s magazine smack bang in the middle of a pandemic. (again me). But there I was, in early August 2020, laying in bed mid-day trying my best to just sleep. All I wanted to be was asleep.
I’d been signed off sick from work for the first time ever in my life and I didn’t care. Me, the reliable overachiever with a zealous love for Christmas – and the only thing I was passionate about was sleep. Passionate may even have been too enthusiastic a word. I was desperate. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’d already slept, I wasn’t tired but still it wasn’t enough because it had nothing to do with rest. It was escape that I needed.
I wanted so desperately to escape the pain of miscarriage. Of losing my baby. I couldn’t stand it. That bread was alive inside of me. It was so acute and loud and sensitive, like multiple exposed nerve endings.
I cried every time I opened my eyes. Every time one sleep cycle ended and I had to do this waking thing all over again. My 13-year-old wandering in, face full of concern, to check on me was like vinegar all over my hurt but even for her I couldn’t pull it together.
I went from feeling numb to pain to despair and back around again. It was sadness in its truest form. There’s no other way to describe it.
A sinking, heavy kind of sad. I didn’t know how to climb out of this depression, nor did I want to because feeling better meant getting over my precious little one and so I wanted to keep this sadness so close to my chest. I wanted it to weigh on me like my baby laying their head on my heart.
It was a catch-22 of desperately wanting to escape the pain while fearing what it would mean if I did.
This sadness drifted into September as I waited for my baby to naturally pass from my body. I hadn’t wanted them to reach inside of me and remove my babe, out of fear.
What if they were wrong? What if they still lived? Admittedly it was less fear than exhausting hope.
My hope, however, faded with every lost pregnancy symptom and the spotting which came and went. Anyway, I couldn’t: my broken, beaten body just couldn’t naturally miscarry and so I had to have the operation.
September 4th, almost a month after I’d been given the news. Almost a month of being in the thick of grief.
Once the procedure was done I melted into the sadness, wrapped myself up in my duvet and became stagnant. More sleep was my aid.
I don’t remember how I came across Julie and the Phantoms.
I wasn’t looking for something to cheer me up. It was just one of those moments in the day when I had exhausted sleep and was looking for a way to pass the time until my body shut down again.
The lights were low, the covers were high and I must have been flicking through Netflix.
I could make something up and tell you that the synopsis drew me in. A young girl dealing with the loss of her mum with the help of her ghost boyband besties but in all honesty I don’t remember what it was.
I doubt it was anything but the simple fact that it was just there. Brand new and shiny, flashing across the screen.
The fictional band Sunset Curve were the first to grace my TV. The metal rock edge to the guitar, the upbeat pop band vibe. There they were, singing about ambition, dreams and living in the moment.
You’d think something like that would have been cause to hit to the off switch given my state.
Living in the moment was exactly what I couldn’t bear, but it didn’t have that effect. It took me instantly back to the days I was on stage (amateur GCSE acting mind you, but I loved it).
I’d always been drawn to performing, the instant thrill it gave me was always my pure joy and so I gave Sunset Curve a chance.
They died moments later and it was down to Julie (Madison Reyes) to take up the baton, to help me out run my grievance by fixing on hers.
Julie, like me, had recently lost someone – her mother – and she was doing her utmost to push down her desire to perform, to sing, like her mother, the reminder being too painful. Until she accidentally summoned up the ghosts of Sunset Curve.
Her first song was what did it for me. Julie took to the keys of the piano (another neglected passion of mine) and played the most soothing melody.
Her honeyed voice followed, gentle at first. She was singing about the hardships of life, about using your pain to find your strength. The lyrics felt direct and pointed as though they were counseling my weary self.
“Wake up, wake if it’s all you do,” she sang and her words couldn’t have been more timely and appropriate to someone who was using sleep as a catharsis. Madison Reyes’ power voice tugged up at me with every line, yanking and yanking telling me to “relight that spark, time to come out of the dark,” and I sobbed. Body shaking, anguished tears that just wouldn’t stop – but honestly, for the first time, those tears felt good.
They felt healing.
Something about that song made me feel sore and seen, made me feel understood and held at a moment in my life where I needed holding.
It took something I loved – the world of performing – and filled me with life, scabbing my wounds so that I had enough strength to allow myself to be comforted without fear of letting go of what I’d lost.
From then on out it was easy to go on that journey with Julie and her phantoms. It was high-school cheesy and there’s a gentle love story brewing that was sweet and not too overblown to watch but it was there exploration of grievance that held me.
The show examines loss from multiple angles, from the perspective of those gone and those left behind.
It held my hand through the pain, cheered me up through song and inspired me to do something I loved. To focus my energy on what brought me happiness and healing which – sidenote – is how I reaffirmed my efforts to get into the field of journalism I’d always wanted to be in, namely film and TV.
Julie and the Phantoms may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The songs may be corny to some and the storyline is certainly young at heart but for me it’s strength. It’s loss, It’s power and it’s love.
I was devastated when I learned Julie and the Phantoms wasn’t going to be renewed for a second season. Still am.
I wanted to see where their journey would take them. How that improbable love story between Julie and ghost heartthrob Luke (Charlie Gillespie) was going to pan out, but if all I ever got was season one then I am grateful.
There aren’t many ways to remember a soul, a little light that never quite made it Earthside. A tattoo in memory of that little heart I only got to see beat once during a scan marks my left arm and then there’s Julie and the Phantoms.
I still cry painful tears every time I hear ‘Wake Up’ and get choked up listening to ‘Unsaid Emily’ but I also feel that same balm over the ache of child loss. I’m encouraged to fight for every moment of happiness, to strive for every dream in memory of the child I believe came into my life to wake me up, to change my world and remind me of my many purposes in life. I can thank Julie and the Phantoms for helping me to see that.
We would encourage anyone who identifies with the topics raised in this article to reach out. Organizations that can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov.
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