The Problem With Believing In Oneself

Bike-two-men-BLOG

I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

Go Forth and Multiply

god-and-adam

King James Bible
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

We didn’t sleep well last night. I was awake and struggling to return to the earlier shallows of dreams. Sophie was awake. She knew that I was awake. I knew that she was awake, but we did not communicate. We were deep in thought.

A few hours earlier, she had asked me to drop this ‘mental illness thing’. I knew she meant business. This had followed on the back of some news I had imparted to her about the events of my day. ‘Events’ make me seem busy, occupied, in demand. However, it’s just a word.

My Events:

Agencies? Begged me to do this new supply gig, begged. I said no. They phoned again and begged some more. I eventually said yes. I was originally booked into a Catholic school who had requested me. So that was given to somebody else. I told the other agency that I would be elsewhere next week so they cancelled my two remaining days. I went along to a second interview at a college on Tuesday. Spent half an hour there and lost a full day’s pay. They haven’t bothered getting back to me. The new school agency phoned me at 4pm, on Friday afternoon, to say that it had been cancelled for next week. I asked them if the other school was still on and they said they had given it to somebody else, but not to worry…because? Fuck, fucking nose 👃

From a text to a friend.

It doesn’t take much imagination or empathy to understand my then state of mind. After telling my wife, she, too, fell into despair.

“We are going to lose the house!”

I thought about telling her that it was too big to lose, but thought otherwise.

“How much of your savings have you left?”

I had been watching my savings since June. I had been watching them diminish. I had been telling myself that there would be a cut-off point, a moment when decisions would have to be made. Up until now, I hadn’t done anything.

Voices were raised for the first time in almost a year. She told me that she was taking the girls to the cinema for the night. She needed to get out of the house. I accused her of abandoning me and she agreed. To add fuel to the fire, she told me that we would have to sell the house and that it, “would break her heart.” She was right and I was wrong; I know that now.

I am fifty-five years old. I have no recognisable source of income. I still have children to raise and a mortgage to pay. I need to decide what to do about it.

My best plan was to procrastinate. Yet I was there, at that moment when something had to be done. My dreams had been just that, empty thoughts drifting over a harsh landscape, hoping to find somewhere to lay down roots. I am writing now, still tired from the night’s non-sleep. My wife is hanging out washing and not communicating. Well, she is, but not in spoken terms.

Our usual routine for Saturday morning is to wake up, make two mugs of tea, sit in bed, talk a little and peruse the day’s news headlines. We used to read newspapers that were made of paper. In the distant past, before ‘the will of the people’ determined that we would be leaving Europe, we would share French or Spanish property porn. The act of looking for dream houses in foreign countries lifted us. Now that is gone and the only thing my wife could say to me was, “You need a plan.”

MICHAEL CAINE

The moment in The Italian Job when a plan is needed.

We never found out what happened to that bus and its hapless passengers. My hope was that somehow they would be able to pull the bullion back, rebalance the vehicle, and then escape through the from door with their hard-fought, but ill-gotten gains, intact. The law of gravity and probability would have told me otherwise.

The plan I have is to get out of teaching and into something that wants me and that I want. Writing is there, but that is part of the dream. It’s not yet real. Nobody pays to read it. I can learn to work with my hands which will involve an apprenticeship of sorts in North Wales. I need those skills and I need to be out of the false structures and regimes that have govern my recent life. I have a pension of sorts (and a pauper’s plot) so, I could take that now. I…

Brokencomets

There’s that bloody rock again.

 

I could go forth and multiply my chances of doing something worthwhile; and keep my marriage. 

It was Hamlet who struggled with indecision, forever wondering if he should act or not act. He even had a dead Dad who spoke to him every now and again. Perhaps what is happening to me is that I am slowly turning into a Shakespearean tragic character. That could be a question, an answer, or another prevarication. Who knows? It is said that those people who do not mobilise themselves in times of war tend to be the ones most likely to lose their lives. When outrageous fortune is flung against you, it is a wise decision to get out of its trajectory.

My hands have for many years been those of a wanna-be writer and poet, but they will now learn to work for their living. They will saw wood, mix concrete, and build fences. They will cut and callous and grow hard against the coming winter. They will grasp onto the very fibres of a life that needs to be pulled back into being. I have spent too long knocking at the door of education and will now move on.

IMG_1300

When we first moved into our then dilapidated home, we were met with radiators that were as useful as this. Like the rest of the house, they were old and obsolete, in need of replacement. We found out that it wasn’t the fault of the radiators but the fact the central-heating system predated the Ark and hadn’t worked since the great flood.

My friend told me recently that we are all destined to become radiators.

When we are young and dynamic, people notice us. When we get older (he thinks fifty is the critical age) we are not even noticed in a room.

We are ‘radiators’.  

But can they multiply?

Three in four Britons felt overwhelmed by stress, survey reveals

Extensive mental health study into the impact of stress also shows one in three felt suicidal and one in six self-harmed

man with hand to his forehead
The report shows young adults are the age group most vulnerable to stress. Photograph: Yuricazac/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Three in four Britons have been so stressed at least once over the last year that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to the biggest survey into the impact of stress.

Stress can be so damaging to wellbeing that one in three people have been left feeling suicidal, and one in six have self-harmed as a direct result, the findings show.

Mental health experts said the huge number of people affected should prompt employers, NHS staff and ministers to do more to reduce stress’s debilitating effects and provide more help.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “This survey shows just how severe the impact of stress can be on our lives, whether we have a mental health diagnosis or not. That a third of people have felt suicidal as a result of stress in the last year is staggering. More must be done to support people at the earliest possible stage so that stress does not spiral into an overwhelming and damaging situation.”

The survey results are significant because of the large number of participants – 4,619 adults – and the fact they were representative of the UK population as a whole.

Isabella Goldie, director of the Mental Health Foundation thinktank, which commissioned the research, said: “Millions of us around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress and it is damaging our health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time but it is not being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.”

Women emerged as the worst affected. While 74% of adults said they had felt so stressed at some point during the last year that they were left overwhelmed or unable to cope, 81% of women said so compared to 67% of men.

Similarly, while 32% overall said stress had triggered suicidal feelings, 35% women compared to 29% of men reported that reaction. And while 16% of the participants had harmed themselves due to stress, 18% of women were likely to say that compared to 13% of men.

Young adults are the age group most vulnerable to stress. Overall, 83% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they had been left overwhelmed or unable to cope, more than the 74% average and far more than the prevalence among those aged 55 or over (65%). Similarly, above average numbers of young adults had felt suicidal (39%), or self-harmed (29%), because of stress.

“For many of us there are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. If the stress response is activated repeatedly, or if it persists over time without recovery periods, the physiological effects result in cumulative wear and tear on the body,” the new report concludes.

Chronic or long-term stress can affect sleep, memory and eating habits and increase the risk of irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers and heart disease. Significant minorities respond by over-eating, drinking, taking drugs or smoking.

It can also lead to anxiety, depression and relapses of schizophrenia. People living in poverty, social isolation, in minority communities, or those with long-term health problems are most likely to experience serious stress, the report says.

Having one or more long-term health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or heart issues, is the biggest risk factor for stress. More than a third of respondents (36%) identified those conditions as stressors.

Work issues, including working outside normal hours, and a poor work-life balance, is the next commonest cause. In 2016 NHS staff alone took 15m days off due to stress, anxiety or depression. Money problems, especially debt, is also a key potential trigger for stress, according to 22% of respondents.

“Stress isn’t a mental illness in itself. But all mental health nurses know that we are all vulnerable to it and that if left unmanaged, stress can be a precursor to more serious health conditions,” said Catherine Gamble, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for mental health.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Tackling stress through positive mental health support not only improves our lives as individuals, but makes good business sense. Failure to adequately support the workforce is costing our economy up to £99bn per year.

“In their roles as employers the civil service and the NHS are adopting new standards around mental health, as set out in the recent independent review into mental health in the workplace commissioned by the prime minister. This includes implementing mental health plans at work, developing awareness, and monitoring health and wellbeing.”

The Guardian 14th May 2018

Tripping Over Milestones…

images-197

Milestones. Coming back from mental illness has its milestones. I have met many of these along the way and have touched them as I have gone past. Most say that I’m pointing in the right direction. They pat me on the back as reassurance that I am on the right road and, indeed, I am on that right road.

I am becoming more and more normal everyday, in many ways.

And…I am scared.

 

I liked being ‘unnormal’. Although it was a desperate situation for a time, it freed me from false gods.

I stopped praying at their temples and took to wandering through the days on a quest to find the grails that I had left behind. I realised that I was not normal. My brain worked differently. My outlooks were different. My goals were not the same. And there I found myself, after a year-long odyssey, thinking that I had made it back, thinking that I had regained my sanity.

I was becoming normal once again.

One thing about having a breakdown is that you throw away the old. Not so much that you throw it away, rather that the old has been thrown for you. You wake up one morning and the world has turned without you onboard. You are floating somewhere in a drug-filled space; keeping quiet, watching, writing.

The writing keeps a record, the watching keeps one’s distance, the quiet gives you time to think. The thinking feeds one’s belief that the world is not a sane place and that everyone in it is normal; and the norm is madness.    

The problem with welcoming back normality is similar to the problem of welcoming displaced people into the security of western democracies. I am a liberal do-gooder and would welcome all and sundry, but I am now aware that amongst the sundries are unwanted agents. These agents have returned, not to ask for forgiveness but to help to create mayhem and chaos. My problem is that I am aware that some of the norms that are creeping back over the borders are non-friendlies. I want to keep myself safe and I can’t have radical agents sabotaging the infrastructure that I have built; or terrifying the crap out of those areas that I have only recently regained.

The other thing is that I cannot, simply cannot, give into the fear of ‘what might’, censor thoughts for the potentially harmful. Or build a bloody Great Wall.

It is the norm that is doing this to me. It is the acceptable face of everyday madness that almost all of us are being coaxed into accepting in exchange for normal life expectations. Most of us stop every now and again and see the madness for what it is. It’s a fairground wheel that everyone is queuing up to climb aboard. It takes its passengers above the ground level of life and shows them what they may be missing. It’s a huge panorama of the possible and it costs an arm and a leg, and a soul, to pay for the ride.

images-198

So, we go on the ride. We hold hands with the one that we love and we marvel at the world that suddenly becomes smaller and less threatening. We are above it, like gods, and we can see it for what it is, a canvas of earth that is there for our conquest. 

Then there is a crunching noise. Metal on metal, in a squeal of dismay. The circle that we were travelling on screams to a stop. The Wheel of Fortune halts in its sky-stride and rattles its deception. The cold wind arises and worries the hands that are holding now more tightly. The earth is still below, but it is no longer smaller. It leers up at you and reasserts its dominance.

After an eternity, the ride begins again. This is the downward part of the cycle and it is welcome. Soon the ground will be there to greet you and you feel comforted. It will sit as sure as gravity and make a dull promise that this is it, no more fear, no more false fancies, no more madness.

“I will shackle your dreams to the earth and they will never tempt you again just as long as you follow me.”

And, for a while the reassurance of this promise is wonderful. No more dreams. No more seeing the world from different perspectives. No more rides towards heaven. The Wheel of Fortune has turned full circle and has brought you back to where you were, at the beginning of all that, before it happened.

No more will you venture out into places that belong to others. You will keep close to the ground and closer to the coastline. You will keep even closer to the little world that existed before the dawn of understanding. You will live a life more ordinary and die a normal death, having pledged yourself to the God of Norm.

Life will begin at the sound of the alarm clock. It will continue on its journey through a brief breakfast, the pinching of time over tea, and the goodbyes and the ‘have a good day’ until the blankness of the business day is bankrupt and the home waits for a few hours of respite.

images-199

FIN DU TRAVAIL (THE END OF THE WORKING DAY)

JULES BRETON

Then, the next day, in all its lack of hope, will suffuse into the world and pretend it is new.  

images-200

 

 

 

Selling Like Hot-Cakes?

DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL Read After Burnout.

It makes no sense. 

images-173

None But The Brave

22089422_10159397186360243_828168399145291049_n

I was looking through the news this morning and found yet another story about a famous person who has suffered from mental issues. The guy was a sportsman, a top-class goalkeeper, who nose-dived into that pit of despair and anxiety that seems to be affecting more and more of the ‘normal’ population. Because of his elevated status, the rest of us are more likely to sit up and listen, to take note and to…?

That’s the problem, we don’t know what we are supposed to do.

I followed the comments made by fellow sports people and was not surprised when an awful lot told him how brave he was to, ‘come-out’ and talk about his problem. The implication was that he had been hiding his issues for many years, as he was too ashamed to admit the truth about himself. I have talked before about the issue of being ‘brave and have written that I do not think that my public confessions constitute anything resembling bravery. My book/blog has served as a psychological confessional box. By that, I don’t mean that I have to ask for forgiveness from some higher power and then subject myself to a wagon-load of prayers that act as penance. No, my confessions are to the unseen ether, the wilderness of the digital, the anonymity of everything.

When I first started to write this thing, my wife was worried that people would be able to identify us from my posts. I changed our names, but old friends referred to me by name in their public posts to the blog. My wife was also worried about the impact my confessions could have on my potential career prospects. I have spent twenty-five years in education and now wish to spend some purposeful time on something else. The fact that it has taken me well over a year to come to terms with this, tells me how much I had become institutionalised. Outside of the dreaded regime of modern education, I had become rather helpless and incapable of making choices for myself.

b74d89a84538a05e61e2692bea7d74a2--choices-quotes-life-choices

These words could have been written for me. It’s part of the general ‘duh’ philosophising that western individualists buy into. It gives us a feeling of self-control, of power over our existence, and consequently reaffirms our innate belief that we are meant for better things. I truly believe what Doe Zantamana says is correct. In simple-tongue it is hard to disagree. Just as I am saying this, winds are picking up around my part of the world and a tree, much too long in the root, is preparing to blow Doe’s words out of my world; if it decides to fall on me. That would be my self-direction being reduced to road bark before my very dead, flat eyes. We may be in charge of things, but we are certainly not in charge of everything.

We follow directions in our lives in the belief that we will eventually get somewhere. In the medieval world, that somewhere would have been heaven with a lengthy stop in purgatory just for good measure. Life was easy then. You lived, you suffered. You died, you suffered some more. They made religions out of suffering and we all followed them. We tend to suffer less in the Western World these days, but that is only in the physical sense. The Black Death has slunk off, the Church is no longer burning people (for their own good), and we are less likely to starve to death or die from some ridiculously curable illness (unless one subscribes to TrumpCare). We live longer, and longer, and longer. Wolves, lions and bears have stopped snacking on us. Casual murder is not as common as it once was. Hey, we’re in clover!

But there’s the rub.

Mankind has spent centuries making advancements. As a species, we have created a universe of infinite possibilities and believe that we should all, every single one of us, have the desire and ability to realise those chances. We see ourselves as works in progress and envision our lives as having meaning and reason. In that world, there is no such thing as the random, by chance, luck or misfortune. In fact, there is no such thing as an Act of God as that would take things out of our own control.

ab07b492868061f045bdcbcba1728d03--deep-thoughts-its-funny

Which leaves us sitting there at the great call-centre of our minds, trying to find the answers to all the questions that refuse to stop ringing in.

During our lives, many of us buy cars, both old and new. Regardless of their age, we are proud of them as they have the capacity to speak to the world and tell it how well we are doing. My present car is now an old car. When I brought it, it was nearly new and was, I believed, out of my league. It’s an excellent Mercedes, one that I have thoroughly enjoyed driving and owning. It has rarely let me down and has always had the ability to wow me. Unfortunately, it has now aged. It is scratched in several a places. There is a dent in the lower panel of the passenger door (one that my wife eventually admitted to under duress) and it is starting to look just a bit jaded. But I love that car. I love it so much that I have been prepared to ignore the odd rattle that began to emerge on bumpy roads. The rattle was just a rattle, I said to myself, but it didn’t go away; it grew. Eventually, the sound grew so loud that pedestrians were halted in their progress in order to identify the source of the severe clunking, grating and rattling. I pretended that I did not notice. Then the car broke down. It wouldn’t move and I was miles from anywhere without my essential mobile phone. Not smart.

In the same way, my own life followed a similar course. There were warnings that I chose to ignore. I was an E Class Mercedes and I could do anything. I was fast, flash and reliable. And I never broke down. When I eventually ground to a halt, my shiny paintwork dulled, my acceleration was diminished, and that rust patch, that hadn’t been noticeable before, suddenly became all too obvious. Overnight, I became a twelve year old executive car that was way past it best. It sat on our driveway for a long time without me going near it. A front tyre went slowly down and still I did not tend to it. I ignored it when I was leaving the house. The passenger seats were still full of the detritus that belonged to my previous life and I thought that that would serve as a fitting tomb.

Just before my father died, I took him for a spin in my new motor. I was very proud and wanted him to be also. At that stage he was in the last stages of cancer, but only he knew that. I floored the accelerator as a way of showing him the possibilities of my success. A little G Force pushed him back into his seat and he asked me to slow down. I did as he asked. A number of months later, he was dead and I stopped seeing how fast my car could travel. It was enough that the ride was comfortable.

images-100

My wife insisted that she should pay for the repair. And she did. 

Now, for whatever reason, nobody stops to look at my car. I still drive it and still love it. But, it is just a car.