The great big reset button

25 Jun

Sometimes life gets bored of us. We’re running along, picking up pace and gaining confidence. And then just as you feel really comfortable it’ll throw a wrench at us (“If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball”). And more often than not, we find ourselves stopped in our tracks. And it all begins to spiral out of control. The pulse quickens, the fear sets in, and you begin to drown. It is then we must look to the late great Douglas Adams.

DON’T PANIC.

Those two comforting words which are written across a certain indispensable guidebook have been words of comfort for me over the last year as my life veers out of control and back again.

Now I would dearly love to be able to share everything that has happened to me over the last three years with you. There is much which can be learnt from my mistakes in personal and professional lives. There are issues which I believe are very important and are already too often unspoken. But there are other issues which come with each of these things, things which may impact on others who are unconnected, or at worst bystanders. There are matters still being dealt with, and there are promises regarding what I will and will not talk about, which have been made to various people including myself. When appropriate I will return to some of the more ambiguous topics.

I can tell you, as many of my readers already know anyway, that caught up in a romantic whirlwind, I found myself married in November 2010. A few months later I moved to the wilds of the County Down countryside – an absolutely beautiful area. There was nothing I liked better than getting up early in a summer morning, and sitting on the wall with my mug of coffee, looking towards the Mourne mountains, listening to the birds and cows and sheep, and sucking in God’s clean air. The scenery was to die for, and jaunts on the bicycle have seldom been as pleasurable for me.

But alas, this story is not a simple one.

Within a couple of months of moving I suffered my first nervous breakdown.

Now this is a very serious issue, and one which I will return to in a future blog. I’m well aware that prospective employers may choose to google me and reading this decide I am too unstable to work. If that is the case, damn you for judging me. And damn you for discriminating against me and others like me. Mental health issues are far too common, and all too often brushed under the carpet. Perhaps if more of us felt we could talk about our problems, then we could nip things in the bud – instead of allowing them to get out of hand. I have much to say on my breakdown, but not yet.

I ended up taking time out of my day job (working in a university library). Quite a bit of time actually. And I got put on some happy pills. Except they didn’t make me happy. They gave me what I can only describe as out-of-body experiences which scared the shit out of me. I made the decision to stop in June of that year while sitting on the boat en route to Stranraer. Listening to John Cleese on stage in Edinburgh with my brother probably helped too.

Fast forward a few months, and after returning to work in the summer, I was offered redundancy from my day job and took it. I’d have regretted it if I didn’t. Right decision, wrong time probably. I then began life as a full-time self-employed publisher and freelance writer/archivist. I spent too many hours on my own, with only my adorable – if over-eager- collie Bowie for company.

Skip a bit more and I find myself withdrawing, panicking, and separated (my choice).

My life is floundering, rapidly sinking into a pit of no return.

DON’T PANIC.

Somewhere out there is a great big red button with my name on it. There’s probably one for you too. Only to be used in emergencies, and that, my dear Bobbystalkers, is exactly where I found myself at the end of 2012. Thankfully, that emergency button was pressed, and suddenly I find life is resetting itself. Gradually the pieces of my life jigsaw are coming back into place. Sure, there’s a few bits that look like they belong in another puzzle, and one or two might be missing completely, and another one or two are ill-fitting and will need careful trimming before we can make them fit, but this puzzle will be complete again.

I find myself in a very bizarre place right now, a little like being back at university in fact.

First things first, I needed a roof over my head. And so, after careful consideration I’m back living with my parents. I’ve scoffed at folk who do this in the past, and often wondered why friends had returned to the nest after time apart, but I get it now. This is a safe haven. Sure, there’s problems and tension, and when you’ve lived on your own and been in charge, to be subservient to your folks is no easy task. But it gives me an instant support network during a very difficult transition in my life.

There is the ever-present issue of space. I’d come from living with four acres of land, and two huge rooms plus an epic garage in which I could store my stuff. Now I’m in a small room, living a sort of bedsit existence. Actually, the way I work, its more like I’m living in an audio-visual version of Shakespeare and Co. You might have seen it in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset – it is a real shop in Paris, just a short stroll from Notre Dame. The owner for years has allowed students and artists to stay in the property – in small beds, in the rooms, crammed from floor to ceiling with books. While its a little disconcerting to walk through this strange shop-cum-bedroom setup, its a brilliant idea. I effectively have an office with a bed. Its working for me for now anyway – though the reorganisation and depletion of the boxes my life is half stored in will take a while. As will finding the paperwork for the tax returns…

I’m also now considerably closer to the city once more. This has resulted in the gradual rebuilding of my personal and professional existences, and a much needed social life. Redundancy took me away from direct contact with human beings outside the home, and this simply wasn’t a healthy option, especially having already had a breakdown. Suddenly I can meet a friend for coffee or a pint and not fret about the journey home in quite the same way. I can be available for media requests at short notice. I can explore. I can maybe even think ahead.

Bumping into friends over the last few months in Belfast and elsewhere, I’ve come to learn that I had effectively been written off as having disappeared into the jungle like a Victorian explorer, never to return. In reality, I was a few miles down the road (well, about 25) and was still up in the smoke once a week or fortnight. Now, I’m only a couple of miles away from the city, and that proximity means I’m effectively back. Of course, I could have done with some of those friends the last couple of years (one or two knew what I was going through), but there’s no point getting down about that now.

Then there’s the question about new partners – a subject which is tricky at the best of times. I’ve never been particularly successful with women, I misread all the signs and need someone to be as subtle as a mankini before I know someone else might like me – I mean, like me like me, not just like me.

There are many who would tell me its too soon to move on to something else, particularly when I am still legally married, but then just about everyone says that in any relationship development. I’m not exactly actively seeking something new, but I’m very definitely not shirking the possibility. I don’t see a new relationship as the key to success, but who knows what might happen or who I might meet. At any rate, I have a couple of online dating profiles which have succeeded in expanding my social circle (yes, it is possible to make friends through those sites, and not simply use them to get laid). I’m not sure what’s worse – admitting my marriage failed, that I have an online dating profile, or that I have mental health issues? Oh no… what must you all think…

DON’T PANIC

So with my pre-existing life either detached or boxed or thrown away, I’m living a cliche and finding myself a little lost for a period, my confidence is growing. I’m feeling fired up this week in a way I haven’t since early 2010 and I can see not just a light at the end of the tunnel, but light and another room. Throw me a train and I’ll take a ride, not chain myself to the tracks in front of it and wait for the inevitable. You see, you can’t depend on a superhero to come to your rescue, you have to rescue yourself.

 

DISCLOSURE:
I wrote the bulk of this musing back at the end of April, and then held off publishing. The fear and anxiety about disclosing my mental health issues publicly putting me off. But then I realised, my issues had impacted on others and being honest and direct about them might actually help – help understanding of what has happened, and also help others who might be dealing with their own issues.

I found more than anything else, that talking helps enormously. I have mixed feelings about counselors and therapists, but I have confidants who have heard quite a bit about my state of mind and stresses. Voicing it gives me power to overcome the anxiety and fear and carry on in a way that medicine failed to.  So many people deal with mental health difficulties privately and can’t cope. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you aren’t fit to work or function. It just makes you human.

For me, I was in a bad place and it got worse and I couldn’t escape physically or mentally, and that brought about the breakdown(s). Recognising the problems, voicing them, addressing and making changes has put me back onto more stable ground. I’ll talk more about this in future entries.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your own mental health or that of a friend/loved one there’s lots of support out there now, including http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

 

 

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