Monthly Archives: December 2011

A good day.

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Today is a good day. Following an unexpected rough patch I’m pleased to report that right now I feel pretty much… normal. Illness can do funny things to one’s mind. I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as a purely physical or a purely mental illness: ill health, like good health bears on the whole person. My mind has often proved to be a weak spot for me, and for most of the last two weeks I’ve seriously been feeling like I might maybe never be ‘myself’ again – irrational I know, but no less scary for all that – so the main purpose of this post is to say, tempting fate and all that, whoopee!!!

An online acquaintance of mine and occasional gig-going/drinking buddy publishes a WordPress blog entitled ‘Silence Is The Mindkiller’, apt enough since the main focus of the blog is his love of music. Being a fellow music lover I’m inclined to sympathise – whether at work or home I tend to have music on most of the time, and a good barometer of how low I was feeling was the fact that the pleasure I gained from hearing favourite songs had damn near evaporated. My mind began to crave silence. This is not like me.

Today was our work’s staff Christmas lunch, and it was pretty much imperative that I attend, me being Head Chef and all… This was more than just an obligation – in point of fact my manager and the organisation in general couldn’t have been more supportive and contingencies were in place to cover my absence if necessary – but as the only day of the year when virtually all the staff in the organisation I work for would be in attendance a convivial atmosphere is guaranteed and I really wanted to be there. I’m glad I made the effort, and part of that reason is Smooth Xmas. In case you don’t know, this is an offshoot of the UK radio station Smooth FM and it plays nothing but Christmas tunes all day. Cheesy? You bet, and despite my sometimes predilection for professing feelings along the lines of bah! humbug! I found myself mentally singing along to the likes of Noddy and co. I tuned into the seasonal schmaltz in all its glory and felt my spirits rise for the first time in days. It’s the one day of the year when our little kitchen begins to resemble a ‘proper’ catering operation (I’d previously worked in hotels, pubs, schools etc) so there wasn’t time for panic to really get a grip; I just knuckled down and bashed it out. From eight this morning ’til five this afternoon I never really stopped: it was the perfect tonic and though I’m flagging a bit now a trace of the seasonal exhileration remains.

I’ve let the music back in, and in that spirit, here’s a clip of what remains for me (and many others) the greatest Christmas song of all time:

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Rising?

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This week I’ve been at, if anything a lower ebb than the last one. Whatever mystery illness it was that came along and knocked me for six during the past fortnight, it’s breezed off on its merry way to wreak destruction in others. What it’s left behind is a washed-out, disoriented, frightened-for-my-sanity me wondering where to go and what to do next.

I’m sure pills aren’t the answer. My crisis is, I’m sure, more of the existential kind. I’m a reasonably intelligent, potentially attractive thirty-eight year old who seems to have hit a brick wall. I ought to feel lucky to have a job and a roof over my head plus a small but dedicated and kind circle of family, friends and acquaintances and, yeah, I can see that I’m lucky to have those things but right at the moment it just doesn’t feel like enough. I’ve been mostly single for the past few years and the occasional relationship I’ve been part of has tended to fizzle out round about the six month mark, just about when things ought to be getting serious. Getting serious frightens me somewhat, mostly because I’ve never been confident I actually have anything worthwhile to give, materially or emotionally. The job I’ve been holding down for the last eight years suddenly feels, frankly, like a millstone around my neck. Even though it’s superficially enjoyable and I know it’s worthwhile and adding to the sum of human good in a sometimes indifferent world, it’s just not doing it for me. I’ve stayed still far too long in a position, both professionally and personally, which is essentially a developmental dead-end.

This is my own fault. For years, I’ve been content to just get by, and when I see others doing rather more than getting by I feel – and these are not pretty things to ‘fess up to – envious and even a bit resentful. I want personal satisfaction, and this requires investment; the question being what to invest and where. Perusing both professional and personal ads is a disheartening experience.  Never mind having the right qualifications – I don’t even understand the language most of the time. I may have exactly what they’re after and not even know it.  I suspect though, and this may just be my downhearted and defeatist tendencies at play, that I’m hopelessly out of my depth. This is what happens when you let things slide.

Part of the trigger for this sudden realization stems from my background: I was adopted at a young age by my Mum and Dad, a lovely couple in their forties who couldn’t have done more for me. I was lucky: too many kids get stuck on the merry-go-round of care homes and temporary foster carers and never enjoy the kind of stability that I did. I now find myself closing in on forty myself, with parents now approaching eighty who deserve a bit of looking after themselves, yet far too often we find ourselves playing out familiar child-parent relations with me generally on the receiving end. I’m currently looking into purchasing a flat of my own, and though my pride has just about resigned itself to the fact I’m going to need their help raising a deposit, I still feel bad that I can’t be there for them more often. This Christmas I’m gonna struggle to buy them a decent gift. Although they’re far too kind as to suggest as much, I often feel like a lame excuse for a son and without wishing to become overly morbid I feel like the time to prove otherwise – to me and to them – is running out. In a previous relationship with a woman who had kids of her own, I struggled mightily to fit into any kind of father-like role with the daughters of the lady in question, too. It’s all about self-esteem and finding my place in the world and I’m none too certain of either.

I like to think of myself as a writer, yet for the last week or two I’ve struggled – that word again – to summon the energy to put – virtual – pen to paper, not to mention more fundamental stuff like living in the first place. Getting out of bed, dressing, eating and organising my time have been really hard. Just putting these words down has helped immensely, so I thank any of y’all who have had the patience to make it to the bottom of this page. I won’t leave it so long another time.

Goin’ down with it…

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It’s officially the silly season for colds, flu and assorted bugs, even though these mischievious viral buggers can strike at any time. The physical symptoms are well documented (aches, tiredness, lack of appetite, sneezing and coughing…) but I’d forgotten how even the commonest of common illnesses can mess with your mind.

Thanks to some kind of mild flu-like infection, all of last week was like pushing sacks of coal uphill. I’m not any kind of macho man but I can be a stubborn sod and I wasn’t about to let a mere cold keep me from geeting my jobs done. I even did an extra day’s work, just to be contrary, even though I was collapsing into bed directly after work every day and sleeping ten and twelve hour nights through.

The aches and the tiredness are gone but I suddenly find that my already meager self-confidence seems to have dried up completely and at the same time I’ve tapped into a new wellspring of anxiety.  Despite fifteen years experience working in catering I’m getting flummoxed trying to think what I should be preparing for tomorrow’s lunch. Panicking that I don’t have time to peel and chop carrots, even though my rational mind tells me it’s just an easy, ten-minute job. When it comes to writing menus and placing orders my mind is a total blank. The thought of next week’s staff Xmas lunch – 60 covers – makes me cry. I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last week – it just bubbles up along with the panic at the slightest provocation. I feel like a baby but there you are.

I’m not much better at home. It took me fifteen minutes to change my bed linen the other day. I had to stop and sit down half way through, it was just too difficult and exhausting. The lack of space in my one room studio which has seemed mostly bearable for the past few years is starting to bug me more and more. It probably sounds melodramatic to say ‘the walls are closing in’ but that’s how it feels. I’m aware that it’s mostly the walls in my mind which are doing the closing but like my mind, every little nook and shelf of my flat is cluttered with something. I’ve collected these possessions over the years and they all seemed necessary and useful at the time but now they’re all starting to wear me down with the sheer accumulated weight. Do I need 2000 CDs? I probably only listen to a couple hundred of them if that. Will I read any of those shelves of books again ever? And if I want to I can certainly pick up another used copy from a charity shop or on Amazon. Isn’t it about time I stopped getting paper bank statements: the batch I’ve just shredded date from when there were still twin towers in New York and I could still smoke twenty a day without giving a thought to my mortality.

I also, much to my chagrin, find myself thinking enviously of friends in relationships. As much as I’m inclined to make like a cat and lick my wounds in private it’d be nice on occasion to have someone else lick ’em (if you’ll pardon the expression). I’m my own worst enemy in this way, rejecting most well-meaning advances from friends and the occasional partner and damming up hurts and inconveniences until all it takes is a silly little virus to come along and put a crack in the concrete and knock me flat on my back. Dumbass!

Having a cold isn’t the root cause of anything but it’s just left me feeling low and exposed, more vulnerable than usual to the kind of thing that a mentally stronger person would take in their stride, or have the good sense to put their metaphorical hand in the air and say “hey guys, I need some help down here”.

I’ve got some help for now. I’ve got a couple days off and my doctor has prescribed me some little orange pills called Hydroxyzine which is actually an antihistamine but has sedating properties that make it useful for treating anxiety, a bug I’m a little too familiar with these days. It’s also good for Eczema which is great because that’s one of the million little things I’ve suffered from but deemed too trivial to bother getting fixed. Anxiety and eczema aren’t the end of the world but they do need fixing if life is going to be liveable and, more to the point, enjoyable.