There is an old middle eastern fable about a fox and a scorpion who meet at the bank of a wide river. They both wish to cross but, as the scorpion can’t swim, it asks the fox to carry him on his back to the other side. The fox at first refuses, knowing how dangerous a scorpion can be, but the scorpion makes a solem promise that it will not sting the fox and then added “and besides, if I sting you, I will sink and drown” . Cautiously the fox lets the scorpion climb up on his back and then sets out into the river. When the fox is halfway across he feels a sharp pain and realises that it has been stung by the scorpion. As the fox sinks into the depths, with its dying breath it says “scorpion, why did you sting me? For now you shall die as well.” The scorpion replied, ” I could not help myself, it’s in my nature.”
I had a conversation once with a friend who worked for a mental health charity about the difference between the mad and the bad. There are mentally ill people who just slip off the deep end and do terrible things and there are those who are just plain bloody awful. There are times when it is hard to tell the difference, but often it’s just shitty people using any excuse going to account for their shitty behaviour, be it drugs, alcohol, too many twinky bars or whatever. People very rarely change from who they are and we are foolish to expect anyone to do so. According to Albert Einstein the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. People can change, people do change, but they have to really really want to and it is hard work.
Today I came across one of those deeply frustrating areas where I wish I could change. I had to cancel some very nicely paid teaching work because the venue had been changed from the one I had agreed to do it in. On top of that I had outlaid a substantial amount of money updating my police checks, public liability insurance and getting a stockpile of materials in for the gig. Whilst to them I’m sure it seemed like a banal, logical decision on the best use of funds and resources, to me it seemed like a wall of thorns like that around sleeping beauty’s castle had been laid down. However much work I have done on myself over the last decade in the form of therapy and cbt, there are a few dark corners of my mind that resist any form of treatment. The venue being changed from a ground floor, smallish roomed old fashioned building with easily accessible exits to one that is buried deep in a concrete structure where the sound bounces around the room along with those of concurrent events and the exits are hampered by the number of floors it is off of the ground. Whilst it might seem irrational to most, I instantly knew that I would be left with no choice but to cancel.
Knowing yourself is not always a good thing but it is far better than running on wishful thinking that would get myself or others hurt in the long run. It can become exhausting constantly running risk assements in one’s own head, but not as exhausting as the walk of shame home again after hurtling out of somewhere because the panic got too bad to cope with. I haven’t had to do that for the best part of a year now as I know the limits of what tips me over the edge and that occasion came when some well meaning person put me in harm’s way because they thought I overreact. The truth is, if you stand in the way of the door when a panic attack comes on, I will claw my way through your stomach and spinal column to get out of the room if I feel trapped.
Whilst I am deeply saddened that I am like this and it upsets me that those who really should know better fail to comprehend or try to empathise with those who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks, I am also glad how self aware I am. So many people seem to blunder their way through life, repeating the same mistakes completely unaware of the finite nature of their own existence. Seemingly clueless that the clock is ticking away and that the point of no return is approaching where they have missed the last boat in life and they will be stranded on the shore wondering why all their chances for happiness have just sailed off into the sunset.
Whenever I have to acknowledge a defeat, like I have today, it shakes me to the core. I feel vulnerable, too close to the ground and I have to focus on what I can do to make my world better in some other way in order to compensate. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get my mojo back. The mild embarrassment of having to admit to my failings will sting only as long as I choose to let it. After all, if we choose to let other people’s judgment of us control our lives, we may as well be their slaves.