A week has passed. I wake during sleep to make sure that it is real. The scent of my wife beside me, and I would reach out and touch her skin just to make sure.
I had decided, at some point, that my stay in Mallorca was a Waiting for Godot experience. I had even decided that, at some point, I had died and this was where my soul washed up, beside the bay of Palma with yachts, body boarders, and stumbling middle-aged souls shuffling from bar to bar. It was possibly worse in my apartment because I had no reason to think that I had not, indeed, died. To keep me occupied, I read. When I wasn’t reading, I watched the sea, drank some wine, watched the sea and drank some wine, or I talked.
I am a teacher so talking to myself comes naturally. In the apartment, there was nobody else to overhear my little chats. Perhaps little chats is over-egging it somewhat; I had little snap-chats in which I would make an observation about something, then wait with dramatic-effect as if there was an audience there to appreciate my insight. On other occasions, I would say the punch-line to a joke and ‘boo, boom’ it. A lot of the time found me pub-singing. The latter was invented by Reeves and Mortimer before being re-invented by my best friend and myself. It has rather strict codes of expression and falls somewhere between Japanese-puppet-theatre and ballet. It is the received convention that it be performed as a duet, but as my stage only held the one, me, myself, I, I had to do it solo, so to speak.
In that event, it’s just a case of finding the appropriate song to reinterpret and then improvise that chosen melody into something that resembles a scratched record jumping through intervals in time and space in a vain attempt to make sense of the of the patently insane. Sounds like a familiar theme. Anyway, pub-singing brought me a little solace and gave me a chance to laugh without people, who were not there, thinking that I had lost the plot.
British clouds have settled into the vacant sky and I am feeling the familiar again.
My wife and middle daughter have gone to the midlands to pick up our eldest from university, leaving the youngest and I to share a full-English breakfast. Tomorrow I begin a stint of supply at a special school (privately-run) where very difficult children are sent get at least a minimum of what they are expected to have. I dropped in there during the early part of the week and was struck by how tragically some of these children played their roles. A few sustained salvos of swearing, kicking plastic bottles across corridors and outright refusal to do anything requested of them, told me what was in store. I was rushed in and out, asked if I knew about teaching English, asked if I wanted a permanent job, told that one woman was leaving to have a baby (even thought I suspected that she hadn’t got anywhere near pregnant by that point), then informed that another teacher was on her way out because she could not tolerate being sworn at so much during the course of a working day.
“Oh, and by the way, when could I start?”
It’s nice to be wanted. I told them that it would be better if I just saw how it went, day by day. I had decided to pull myself away from the Prozac, and still do, but for the time being sticking with the programme seems to make some sense.
So, where have I been this last year?
My first stop was abject confusion and terror. My life to that point had led me towards the precipice of despair and my mind was no longer mine. There were forces at work, pulling me in every direction whilst closing down my comprehension of where I had actually been, where I was going to, or where I was stranded.
I lost sleep, panic-attacked and then went to the doctors. The doctor took one look at me and prescribed two sets of tablets (Prozac and Diazepam). The Prozac calmed me whilst the Diazepam suffused me. At that point, I was a vaguely smiling member of The Walking Dead, neither fully human nor fully zombie. In this state, I cycled a lot. I also think that I read moderately. I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t write until I wrote a long elegy to my long-since-passed Father. In my drugged state of wellbeing, I floated around the streets of my town or above the cycle wheels of my bike. I felt ashamed of having broken down and kept away from people who would diagnose me as a malingerer. Oh, and at some point I got very old and went off sex. Was it a coincidence that my wife went off the same pastime around the same time? I do not know. More than anything else, I was scared.
Thoughts of ending it all were never too far away. I made a few, not nearly close to being, botched attempts, but these were cries for help and part of the compulsion to stare into the abyss. My anxiety remained long after my depression had lifted. The anxiety was a sharp instrument compared to the blunt weapon of despair. I came to see my anxiety- disorder as an enemy that set up ambushes for me when I was least expecting them. Feelings of happiness were usually the prelude for an attack, and the attacks did come. I learnt not to trust my feelings, becoming vigilant instead. In all of this, I had just managed to keep my marriage together – well it was my wife who did that. I was the patient in a Stephen King novel and she was the long-suffering carer. I owe her my life.
I couldn’t talk to people. I hated teaching. I could never return to the classroom again. This last bit seems ironic but it’s not. In essence, although I am still teaching, it is not me. I have taken myself out of a system of institutions in order to keep me out of institutions. What we call education is little more that a fast-track course towards mental instability and unhappiness. It is Gradgrind and The Wall. It is tomorrow’s dystopia brought to you today. And its delivery personnel are the tin-pot politicians and heartless school leaders who want to, so very, very dearly be something, an instrument of righteous change. And Oftsed are included in this. It’s a case of constantly weighing the goose that’s intended for Christmas but never truly feeding it. I have gone off the idea of Christmas dinner, preferring crackers instead.
This last year has taken me from one Yorkshire coastal town to another. After that, I went to fulfil a two-month contract in Mallorca and then I came home. My mind was full of righteous rage at the beginning of my journey. I had lost all of my beliefs and trust in almost everything around me. More than anything else, I had lost myself. I never thought that I would find me again, but I did.
My pilgrimage took me from one school to the next and from one time in my life to another. I revisited those things that had made me and reappraised the person who I had thought I had been. I made some interesting discoveries and saw myself with more and more clarity. After I had ventured to the ends of the earth (The coast of east Yorkshire), I then set sail for further horizons (Mallorca) in order to discover that life continues in a similar fashion. Mental illness is man’s condition and it thrives on a diet of close-contact, walled communities and the need to constantly improve. Oh, and let’s not forget the need to control. The more we seek to control, the more wayward things become; like cupping water in your hands. Some things are meant to be fluid and refuse to be contained.
I have met lots of good people in the last year as well as lots of people who are not too good. Mind numbing drugs mixed with a modicum of alcohol have eased my passage and sleep has returned where once it had gone. Breathing has become deeper and more meditative whilst my eye for the ridiculous has sharpened. Let’s not forget the bullshit detector which has been brought into use on many occasions, especially around the triple word inspirations of a billion new academies that flourish alongside Growth Mindset and guano harvesting. Beyond that, I rediscovered a liking for teaching, not love nor passion but a liking for something that I could do reasonably well. That’s enough.
My enemies have proved more than worthy opponents and anxiety still creeps around, waiting for the moment when it is able to ambush. My daughter’s Anorexia is hopefully now in retreat, but I won’t be holding my breath anytime soon. And then there has been the madness of others which calls into question one’s own sanity and whether or not all of this is not stable. I had my good friend, lost in his own nightmare, try to persuade me that all the faults he possessed were really mine. He was probably correct.
Somewhere on my odyssey I discovered enough jetsam and flotsam from my previous life to build again. My vessel was new, not a new design, but put together differently. One day last year, when the storm was at its height, I set sail and left land behind. For a long time, I was lost to the elements, battered by angry waves and threatened with being smashed against the dark cliffs, before the light started to guide me towards a calmer inlet.
And this is there where I sit now, writing about my voyage.
Not yet finished.
Of all the places I should have chosen not to land, the private special school should not have been one of them. It’s a red brick building placed in the middle of a council estate in a nice middle-class market town. I never knew it existed until I was asked if I