Sunday, 20 April 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 1

I've been wanting to write this for a very long time. I always seem to get bogged down somehow - in disclaimers and excuses. 

I've really struggled with my life. I know it's not been the sort of terrible ordeal many go through, but it's been, I think, unnecessarily hard. (I can already here people muttering 'stop whingeing. Just get on with it' but I shall ignore them, for now.) As I heard someone say recently on the telly when asked if he was ok - 'I have no good reason to feel bad.' The asker was reassured, taking this to mean that he didn't feel bad, but of course he did. He just didn't feel he had any good reason to feel that way and therefore shouldn't complain. It's what I've come to call 'giving myself a hard time for having a hard time.' I guess it's what other people call 'depression'.

This morning I planned to deliver a plant to someone in Brighton. It's not something I normally do but a customer rang up wanting to send someone a present for Easter and I thought why not? I told them I'd be there for 11am on the Sunday, before going to the nursery. 
Anyway, I did what I usually do and got side-tracked looking through a seed catalogue, which is, yes, for the nursery, but could have been done some other time. It's a huge list and I started at about 8.30 I guess and time was getting on and I knew I should be getting ready to go but somehow I just didn't seem to be able to stop. Then I discovered that I'd left my bag (with my card in it) at the nursery so I couldn't pay for my seed order. I was completely furious with myself - called myself all sorts of stupid - crashing about, looking for this sodding bag. Anyway I found I could order without giving my card details (I'm not sure yet how that's going to work) and I actually closed the PC down at about ten to eleven and got dressed (I was still in my PJs) I had to wash up (there wasn't that much) and needed something to eat. I didn't get to Brighton until 11.30 or so and the recipient was overjoyed and hadn't been expecting it. I made a fuss of her little dog (a really sweet wire-haired terrier) and went home and made myself some 'breakfast'. 

The point here is the way I beat myself up (almost literally) for being late. Today was a middling sort of example. Other times, most mornings, things go reasonably smoothly and I get out the door just feeling stressed. Some times though something goes really wrong and I can end up hurting myself or breaking something. At such times I simply hate myself and/or the world so much that I just want to destroy something. I should say that to date I've not damaged anything important, or anyone, and that it usually happens when no one else is around, but my wife has seen enough of it for it to have upset our marriage. As a result I've done a lot of work on it this last 18 months or so - getting some CBT and taking anti-depressants and it now happens a lot less often and generally less violently than it used to. 
At one point I was having a bad day about one morning a week - usually a Friday - my day off. Oddly, if I have an important appointment I can generally get there on time as much as anyone else. It's when I know the arrangement is somewhat flexible that I have trouble, or even when it is just me that has set the date and nobody else gives a toss whether I turn up or not - such as with getting down the nursery at weekends (which is when I do most of my work there) Even when I have nobody to please but myself I have this nagging in my head that I should be getting on. I should get down there earlier. That nagging is laced with so much irritation, such impatience, such contempt - it's why I come to hate myself so much at these times, and why I feel like hurting myself - as a punishment. 
So - why can't I just get organised and get up earlier and get moving and be down there at a reasonable hour? Surely I'd be happier. This is the problem. I don't want to give in to it. When I was very young I remember very clearly not wanting to be like my parents, always bustling about, tutting, worrying about the time, the money, what the boss would say. My mum trying to think through everything in advance - everything that might go wrong, so she could be prepared, trying to get me to get myself ready for school in the morning, and my dad, after a long week at work down the power station, trying to fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, forever telling me 'jaldi-jaldi', 'tout suite', and 'whistle and ride, whistle and ride' because I was a preoccupied and dreamy boy always with something more interesting going on in my head. Later on they and other relatives tried to get me to take life more seriously - to be more disciplined, to think of the money, to do as I was told and to put up with it. I was nagged over my homework and my revision and then over my job-hunting and always at every opportunity I would escape into my thoughts and imagination. I just couldn't face the alternative. 
If they'd been happy and fulfilled with the life they advocated perhaps they might have got through to me but they weren't. They just weren't a very encouraging example. I remember thinking from a very early age that if that was what life was about then I couldn't see how it was worth living. I knew that I had to do something different. I had no idea what - there were no other role models available - no mentors of any kind. I couldn't imagine what it would take to be different. I only knew what not to do.

So I've got this split in my thinking. When something needs doing I have my parents going on and on at me, and my child somehow just blocking it out, carrying on with what he's doing, even though he's feeling more and more nagged and getting more and more stressed. He's not consciously refusing. I was never actually naughty - in my family there would have been no point. My 'resistance' was passive, distracted, absent. I'm sure I drove them nuts. The more they went on at me the more I just sort of zoned out. I was upset, certainly, but it did not occur to me to change it. It didn't occur to me that it could be changed. I just wanted to go back to being on my own and getting on with what I was doing. And this is how I still am. Every morning, to a lesser or greater degree. I do it to myself now.

Psychology gets short shrift, I know, from many right-minded people. The two great ideologies (arguably) of the 20th Century - Marxism and Freudianism tell us on the one hand that we can blame society for our woes, and on the other that we can blame our parents. Modern science tells us we can blame our genes. Christianity, Existentialism and Capitalism tell us we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have free will. There is no excuse. 
But it's not about blame. It's about explaining. Whatever problems I've had, for some reason (and I've no idea where I get this) I have always tried to think it out - 'Why am I like this?' 'Where do I get that?' 'How does it work?' But the point of course is not just to describe the world, but to change it. Many seem to presume that it is futile but that doesn't seem likely to me. To use the kind of metaphor my dad would have liked - if there are smoke and grinding noises coming from under the bonnet it makes sense to stop and have a look - not just drive on and hope it goes away. But it's a devious contraption - the mind. 
I've tried asking other people - because they seem to get on with life better somehow - maybe they know something I don't, but most people seem very wary of the idea of talking about these things - as if that might make it worse - as if it's the thinking about it that causes the trouble in the first place, but trust me - it's the feeling that comes first. The thoughts are an attempt to deal with the feeling, and the feeling is there whether I think about it or not. 
Some might accuse me of 'dwelling' - thinking that perhaps deep down I like being this way but I can tell you here and now that when I do have good spells - and I do - I love them so much. I get so much done. My mind is clear and creative. I am confident and positive and when it passes and I can feel myself going back, it's the most miserable thing. No - I really don't 'dwell' on my misery for pleasure. 
I think the people who say these things (that I should just stop complaining and pull myself together, that thinking about it will only make matters worse, and that, in fact I actually really like being unhappy) really don't know what it's like. Of course it's subjective but it seems to me that if you can solve your problems simply by pulling yourself together then you really haven't had much of a problem. Real physical problems, that you can do something practical about are a different sort of problem anyway, and I'm actually quite good in a crisis because there's usually only so many things you can do. A genuine and well defined trauma is different too. I don't wish bereavement, crime, sickness or war on anyone, but I suspect the resulting trauma is a different thing to this depression/anxiety I'm talking about, not least because people can relate and they take it seriously. In this part of the world at least, the kinds of oppression and shame suffered by homosexuals and other minorities at least have support from other members of their group although that is a relatively new thing. 
But no. This is different. It's this 'no good reason to feel bad' that is the thing and so perplexing. And no, it's not just a First World problem - not just a matter of us having too much time on our hands - the 'worried well'. Certainly if I was starving I'd not have much time to think about my mind but it's also true that if I'd just had my legs blown off my allergies might seem like a low priority. That doesn't mean we shouldn't treat people for allergies.

Blame is an issue of course. I don't think we should necessarily not blame parents or society (or even the genes) if they are genuinely at fault. There's a weird paradox. I hear pundits say we live in a society that blames the parents for everything, taking no responsibility for ourselves, but then I hear mothers in particular say 'well of course you can't just blame the parents'. 
Parenting is hard - I'm well aware. It's why I chose not to be one. Among the many things my parents and their friends worried about were their kids. They all had them but none of them seemed to be getting anything much out of it. The kids screamed and sulked and the parents were exasperated and impatient and seemed to want to get away from them as early in the evening as possible. Again I asked myself 'what's the point?' On top of everything it was to support them that all these adults had to hold down the dreary jobs and do those long hours - that and the mortgage and the marriage that went with it. I didn't want any of it and I can remember arguing this - to everybody's irritation, when I was 12. It just seemed obvious. Of course now I know this was the late 60s and early 70s and dropping-out of the rat-race was in the air. I suppose I picked up on it, but it seems to have stuck with me in a way it didn't with most of my peers who kowtowed pretty well when it came down to it and they got a wife and a mortgage and some sproggs of their own. I just couldn't bear to go along with it. I couldn't bear to be so weak, so submissive, so mediocre. I guess I must have held my dad in some regard because I was so disgusted by the way he scurried about and did as he was told. I just sort of wouldn't. Without making a deliberate, overt, or even conscious stand, I just wouldn't, or couldn't. I'm not sure which. Probably both. They seem inextricable. 
Somehow all that bustling about - worrying about time and money and sticking to a routine and doing things in a set way, seemed degrading, like I was being colonised by a foreign power. I know now also that that was the end of an era, as well as the beginning of one, and my parents were of the previous generation. I can't blame them for that, obviously. It's hard to put ourselves back there now but I was right on the cusp and I wonder if any generation since has felt the power of Parental Disappointment the way we did. The rift is quite unimaginable now. Adults I meet now are much more like their kids than like their parents. They just don't have that deference - that sense of their place in the world. Perhaps that's a shame. I wish some people were better at putting up with things now - instead of this waste and impatience we see today. In the face of environmental cataclysm, it would be good if we learned some humility and self-control. But I wouldn't want to go back to the 50s. 
So much judgement and disapproval, and not just imposed from on high - we did it to ourselves, we working class - sneering and tutting at anything that indicated that a person might not be pulling their weight or be getting above themselves. Simply doing something differently was taken to mean they thought they knew better than everyone else and needed to be taken down a peg or two. The fact that I spent my childhood, for preference, in my room, drawing and reading and writing and collecting things was a cause for suspicion where now I suspect a parent would tell everyone I was 'gifted' and going to be an artist or a writer, or an ecologist. Back then the options were far fewer and our place was to fit into the opportunities available - factory or shop, office if you were lucky, manual labour if you were not. Policeman, fireman or nurse. The forces. That was about it. I didn't want to do any of those things but I had no idea what else a person might do. Artists and writers and ecologists might as well have been mythical beings for all I knew. 
But they were scared - of course they were, my parents and their generation. I've written about this before. (Sorry if I repeat myself.) They'd lived through the war and the aftermath and life was all about security and safety and you couldn't afford to take chances. I know that and I don't blame them - of course I don't.

to be continued...

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