After a year of blogging, I am taking three-weeks off to cycle in France.
There, I will also be writing, but not blogging.
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.
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.
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.
Then, the next day, in all its lack of hope, will suffuse into the world and pretend it is new.
Read After Burnout.
This is just me pestering y’all for a little peak into my book.
You can get a sample for free.
If you enjoy it I would really appreciate that you share or write a review.
Monday morning and I am dropping off my youngest with her cello. As we reach the school gates, I realise that my wife has taken her car to work. I realise, not through the logical paths of realisation, but through the miasma that is the early morning rush to school.
“I won’t be able to pick you up and your cello from school at 4.30 – just hang on a little – I’m getting roof-bars for the Galaxy.”
The last two years have seen a rapid decline in my i potential. We have moved from being moderately comfortable to being borderline bread-line (this is my wife’s take on our situation).
My problem is that I cannot face the fact that I am a teacher; a teacher whose whole career careered out of control and broke down smoking on the side of some preordained motorway. An there it still sits, steam coming from most of its orifices. My wife thinks that i am faking it. She thinks that I have been – it. She thinks that I think too bloody much. She is probably right.
There has been a change in her attitude in recent weeks. She is forever asking me what mu plans are – I have no plans. Indeed, I have consciously planned to have no plans. I am certainly averse to failing – and I have a plan not to fail – but I do plan not to have plans. Plans can box you in, plans can reduce your ability to react or respond to opportunities.
And what is an opportunity? It’s a chance. a chance that things might turn out better than they had promised.
The restless nights have returned. My wife suffers more than me – at the moment. I have, however, been making huge strides and a late surge in the sleeplessness stakes. Last night allowed me to make up a whole stack of ground. We both lay awake at various points in the darkness, neither of us acknowledging the other’s waking. It is a lack of words that keeps the lie that we are each separately asleep, rather than being annoyingly awake.
If we don’t talk about it, maybe the gates to that other world will open for a few more hours at least. They didn’t, they just kept swinging on the rusty hinges.
From the vast prairie of ‘not-sleep’ I emerged this morning almost an hour earlier than I was intending to. My waking needed rubber-stamping with the making of tea.
Tea is my Pavlovian trigger in that it confirms that I am now awake, and that the hours of half-sleep have been vanished.
I have to go, now…
I shall return to you when the roof-bars have been fitted.