I had to take my car into the mechanic's yesterday to have the driver's side window repaired. For whatever reason the electric window opening mechanism turned into a glass grinding mechanism. I went along to see my mate (I'll call him Leo) after dropping the car off (he lives along the road from the mechanic) and he drove me home and has offered to come and pick me up when the car is ready. He and his wife are incredibly generous. Unfortunately, listening to Leo often leaves me feeling a bit useless - he is one of these very gung-ho people who just seems to go for things and get stuff done and I don't think he really understands what it's like to not be like that. He has his own problems with depression and yet he still seems to get a massive amount done. He has an online business, he's a computer consultant and he's doing up an old property to live in. Business is always on the edge and money is tight they say but there always seems to be enough to buy some quite expensive things, at least by my (admittedly fairly modest) standards. There are teenage kids in the picture too. It's always pretty chaotic round there but they have a lot of friends and are constantly on the go.
In many ways it's the sort of life I'd aspire to myself - working for myself on this and that, not worrying too much about the niceties. My priorities would be different - I'd probably work less and own less than they do, but that's just a matter of emphasis. I've always admired people who seem to somehow get it together to make enough money to get things done without succumbing to the 9-5 grind. As you may know if you've read what I've written over the last 18 months or so, I've been pretty pleased with myself for accepting, feeling compassion for, and even loving myself as I am, but this still gives me trouble - especially since Miss Green's death when I've been mostly unemployed and being bailed out by my mum. I've learned to accept and even feel ok about being an 'introverted home-body' but the fact is I still feel like it's a waste. At some level I feel like I've given up, and I'm only 52 and it feels a little early to be doing that.
I think what Leo doesn't get (and what many people before him, including my ex, didn't get) is that it's not simply a matter of somehow forcing yourself. I think most people, no matter how sympathetic on the outside, deep down, just think I'm not really trying hard enough. And yet I know that if I push myself now it will make it worse. I will feel confused and pressurised and I will become tearful and clumsy and bad tempered. I will not be able to think and I will begin to have little accidents. I will be rushing to get it over with. I certainly won't be alert to new possibilities. I won't be thinking laterally or creatively. I will just be wanting to get it over with. Afterwards I will be tired and, yes, relieved that it's over, but without much real conviction that anything much will come of it. A lot of the time these things seem pretty futile from the start. I do them because, well, it's better than doing nothing. I don't expect the things I do to be what people want so if it's about job applications or publicity for what I do, I don't expect much of a response. In short, before all the struggle and panic, deep down it all seems pretty pointless. I talked about why it seems futile in the last post. It's not because I don't value what I do - actually I really like what I do. I just don't expect anyone else to be impressed. It's not my fault - it's just how it is. I've said all this before I think.
There was something on the radio the other day about dyspraxia which I could relate to. This is a condition in the same sort of league as dyslexia and dyscalculia - neurological conditions that prevent the mind understanding written language and mathematics respectively. Dyspraxia is usually understood I think as a kind of chronic lack of coordination (clumsiness and messiness) but apparently it can also come out as an inability to plan ahead or get organised. In all three conditions it is not merely a benign and adorable muddle but leads to anxiety and frustration and feelings of inadequacy. Now I'm always sceptical of the medicalisation of human diversity. The number of new conditions and disorders and syndromes seems to be multiplying exponentially (which is good news for Big Pharma of course) but that doesn't mean people aren't struggling and these diagnoses do at least illustrate the variety of ways people fail to thrive. At any rate, real or imagined, this latter description of dyspraxia pretty well illustrates how I feel about my life.
Is it real or imaginary? There are always those who suspect that most psychiatric disorders are a result of the sufferer just not pulling themselves together or not trying hard enough. It's a common enough opinion among right-wing pundits that all our problems - unemployment, poverty, depression, religious extremism, addiction, crime, violence, and even illness could be cured by the robust application of free-will, responsibility and self-discipline, and of course there is something in that. That people can be lazy, often do take the easy way out, do not challenge themselves, seek to blame others rather than take responsibility and generally make excuses is a fact. Left wingers do it too though. I recently came across a posting by a very well-meaning friend on Facebook which said "You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be" - a well- meaning enough plea for self-confidence and positivity, and yet looked at another way, it is saying that if you are stuck (unhappy, poor, frustrated, pessimistic...) it is because you have decided to be that way. You are aware of the alternatives (otherwise it wouldn't be a decision - it would just be getting on with life) and yet have chosen to remain unhappy, poor, frustrated and pessimistic. In other words it's your own fault. This is the (misguided) message of existentialism and free market individualism. It's also the message of the rugged self-reliance of the working class and the libertarian right. There is no excuse. It's your own stupid fault and the sooner you face up to that the better. You can't expect any help from anyone else.
(I'm very aware, by the way, that my problems are my responsibility and nobody else's. As to who is to blame, that's another matter. Suffice it to say 'blame' has become a less useful concern. I'm more interested in explanations.)
So - how to settle the dispute then between the idea that we all have enough free will power (should we choose to apply it) to 'get over' our problems, on the one hand, and on the other, that some of our problems are beyond our powers to change, or at least, are extremely difficult to change? The law tends to assume that criminals above a certain age are fully responsible for their actions - otherwise punishment and deterrence make no sense, but it also takes into account mitigating circumstances. Mad or bad? Nature or nurture, and if nurture, does that mean easier to change? If it is 'all in your mind' does that mean it is easier to deal with than if it is 'real'. For me at least, faced with the prospect of all the things I'd like to deal with, there really does seem to be a part of my mind that simply says 'Won't'. Part of me is like a furious toddler, throwing himself about, screaming or just silently refusing to move. I have no idea what to do with him, and lord, have I tried. The more I go on at him the more he refuses to move (I'm not sure if this has to do with the fact that when I was little there was zero tolerance of tantrums of sulks - the consequences would have just been too dire). No doubt this is indeed 'all in my mind' but it might as well be a huge rock on my legs. I simply don't know how to shift it.
I've asked people for help with this several times over the years, because they seem to know something I don't. I ask them how it's done. I'd like to have travelled a lot more. I'd like to have a house of my own. At the moment I'd like to do more writing - not like this - real writing. There have been suggestions that I could teach or lecture or write more on horticultural matters and make money that way. I used to want to do more art (I can draw and sculpt as naturally as some people can chat and make friends. I just never developed it). I say these things to them and they just look at me like I'm a fool. 'So do it' they say. There is just this huge gulf of understanding right there. They genuinely don't understand what it might mean to not know how to 'just do it'. It is unfathomable. My trips abroad were mostly holidays paid for by women who had better jobs than me. The one I paid for (to Mexico) was after a complete fluke where I got paid £1000 to do a preliminary survey of common lands in Sussex for English Nature. I suddenly had £1000 and spent it on a flight. All my time at uni has been funded one way or another or I wouldn't have done it. The nursery was funded by Miss Green, my grandma's will, my ex and my mum. I've never been able to get my head around working and saving for a certain length of time to go and do something. It seems like it should be the most obvious thing in the world and yet invariably the money earned is barely enough to live on and I'll have wasted several months in a crappy job for nothing. Why can't I get a better job? I don't know. I talked about this a couple of posts back. I don't know why I've never had a proper graduate-level job. It's that invisible boulder on my legs again. Partly I suspect it's the difficulty of fitting in. Partly it's the boredom of ordinary jobs and the fear of screwing it up and letting everyone down. Partly it's the sense that it probably won't come to anything anyway.
I've never felt so inferior though, as when I've tried to explain all this to people. They just don't get it, and I suspect they either think I'm work shy, or that I'm just not trying hard enough - that it's all in my mind and I should just get on with it and that if I don't it's because I've decided not to - because at some level I like being unhappy and unfulfilled and maybe I like whining about it. Whatever they think, all I get is incomprehension, exasperation, contempt and finally they leave. The women on those dating sites (see previous post) simply see it as some inexplicable weakness. Men after all - real men, are confident and worldly and, like 21st century women, are social, busy and energetic - always getting out and doing things, because staying in is a sort of weakness, and being lonely is a kind of repulsive failure.
So I guess I should shut up about it. Hopefully I won't have to think about it much more now I've got it down here. Perhaps I should just accept that I am that home-body - introverted, dyspraxic and prone to depression. I live in my imagination. I have several elaborate places I go to where the scenery is wonderful and there are interesting characters and even friends, and I don't have to work all the hours god sends to save to go there. I have friends online as good as any I have in 'real life' (which says more about the poverty of my real life relationships than about the internet) I have the nursery which keeps me going a lot of the time, and at least my mum and bro seem prepared to support me. The things I have achieved in the past have been partly a result of being able to directly use resources I already have and therefore don't have to save for, and serendipity. Maybe that's enough? Maybe if I accepted that fact I could be content in myself and therefore find the confidence and enthusiasm, energy and good humour I know I can have, and which I know is so attractive to women and potential friends alike?
In the mean time I have to pay the bills.