The heart is deceitful above all things. 

March 27, 2017

What’s this all about eh? I woke up this morning and it should have been perfect. Sunshine gently finding its way into my relatively tidy flat, chocolate box view of toy town houses outside, freshly laundered cotton bedding, birds a twittering like those from a Disney cartoon. There was no rush to get up, just a few fiddly bits and bobs to do at my own pace, all in all it was everything you could wish for on a warm and sunny spring morning.

So why is my heart beating like a watch with a broken mechanism? Anxiety and panic are nothing new to me, I have dealt with it before I was old enough to give it a name and probably before I could give anything a name, thinking about it. It was it the air as a child, in the fabric of my family and in my bones and marrow before I could speak. What I’m feeling today is really odd though. It’s not like the heart trouble I experienced last year, no pins and needles, no numbness, no crushing pain , no exhaustion, this is something quite different. It’s anxiety of a sort I haven’t felt for a while, I’m sure I would if I were foolish enough to expose myself to crowds, noise or nasty people, as those are my main triggers, it would soon flare up and there isn’t a week that goes by without me throwing up through nerves at least three times (sorry to be gross), I’m used to that but since I’ve been taking beta blockers the constant feelings of anxiety mixed with panic have settled to distant background hum, not today though. 

Panic and anxiety are mercurial things, they sneak out wherever they can, in actions and in ailments and if we aren’t careful we can end up trying to attribute them to things that didn’t cause them just to give them a shape and a face we can confront. I am currently battling with my student loan deferment form, last year it caused me misery as I had to deal with it after being discharged from hospital, a battered and bruised mess, and before that it kicked off a very unpleasant situation that had horrible and permanent consequences… I could pin this feeling on that…. True, but it wouldn’t be the truth, it being a mild annoyance, nothing more. There are other things looming, big government wheels grinding towards my safe little world, personal goals not fulfilled, family stuff an ever present shadow but no, none of those, although I could fit them to the feeling with a bit of a squeeze. 

The avoidance of such feelings can often be more damaging than they could ever be themselves. I’ve seen awful things take place to people I care about for no other reason than the avoidance of a bit of conflict in the short term, untenable situations limp on for a lifetime rather than face a short span of emotional turmoil. It’s the spiritual and emotional equivalent of smoking, every day you carry on doing (or not doing)  the same old thing, not seeing the infinitesimally small changes until you look back and see how deep the cancer is and how far it has spread. It sounds dramatic but we only get one life and wasting it isn’t really much different from speeding its end. Loosing control of your life to false emotions is spiritual suicide by small degrees and it has tried its best to claim me and still keeps trying. Now though, when these dibilatating feelings try to push me over the edge, I push back. When someone tries to put me in a box I claw my way through the sides like a feral cat… except possibly less sane. 

So what is this? Where’s it come from? I just don’t know.

I just hope it will go away soon.

This time last year…

March 17, 2017

I have been alive for roughly 17000 days so far. How many more have I got? Maybe eight thousand, maybe one, who knows? Not enough, and never will be. Out of all those days, how many do we truly remember? Probably not that many… For me, there are only a few whole days that are chiselled in granite in my mind. Most days are like hastily scribbled notes on the back of fag packets, soon forgotten as the random events pile up and become almost interchangeable. I account for the bulk of my time now by the art I do, I know that I will be able to look at this last month or so and say that February and March were the time of strange creatures, where my world was strewn with the chaos of their making. For my first working life though, there is next to nothing, a decade in the civil service, faded memories and things that have drifted from my world through wear, obsolescence or as changes in me or the world have made their need unnecessary. I have kept all the time sheets though, all those hours and days I can never get back wasted on earning money to buy crap or get blitzed to divert myself from the utter pointlessness of the work I did back then. I have this strange feeling at the moment, at first I found it hard to place, like a new form of music or the taste of a food I have never tried before. It turned out to be satisfaction, I feel it rarely and, after days of doing stuff with people that actually matters and makes a difference, I find the lack of need to push myself any further once I got to the end of the workering day rather disconcerting. 

Most memories I collect are more like scratches on records or chips in a paint surface or scuffs on shoes, fleeting but permanent. Flashes of events, the warm glow of bliss, the gut punch of betrayal, the iciness of fear,  the full narrative of the event lost but the extremity remains, stark moments fixed in time. My memory of this day last year is in technicolor with surround sound as its not everyday that starts with you thinking that there is a good chance you might die. The spectrum of emotions that day and their extremity was huge. Fear, obviously, oceans of it, sloshing about everywhere, not so much of death as you are gone and that’s that, but more of the other potential outcomes, strokes, open heart surgery, being airlifted to Brighton in the event of certain outcomes, brain damage, loss of fine motor skills, the loss of everything I relied upon to make me, me. I had already had a taster to upcoming events earlier that week and that was bad enough and more of the same was not at all welcome. Coming in a close second to the fear was the feeling of utter helplessness, knowing that my destiny and the events I had to undergo were utterly out of my control a feeling that soared to unimaginable heights during the procedure itself. When your arteries are being slit open and catheters inserted and wires and tubing thread inside your body in the manner of a David Chronenberg body horror movie, you soon realise that you aren’t going anywhere. Next on the list was wonder, a horrendous experience is still an experience and the artist and documentor in me wanted to store it all up, squirrelling it all away for use at a later date. It’s not often you get to see your own heart being operated on and see it beating inside your own rib cage. After that came the pain I guess, mostly the throbbing headache from all the nitrates pumped into my bloodstream but also the internal bruising that got worse over the course of weeks. Below that was a combination of hurt, disappointment and a little anger at the inevitable shittyness of a few people in my life and the inevitability of their poor behaviour. You always expect people to be better versions of themselves when you really, really, need them to be…. but they rarely are. I’d like to think I felt more pleasure with how lovely most people had acted but the fear and pain made that hard to contemplate on until much later. Disappointment though cuts to the heart of things like a diamond, it’s hard and sharp and takes so long to dissipate and of everything on that day it remains with the most clarity. The targeted apathy of it, the cowardliness of it and the utter lack of remorse of it stings like vinegar on an open wound. Then there was amusement, the detached observance  of the intravenous Valium, the surrealness brought on by the weird visual effects of all the iodine in my bloodstream, the novelty of being able to still crack a joke about hoping not to die on the same day as Paul Daniels and having to deal with the annoying bugger in the queue for heaven. 

Every moment of that day had solidity, none more so than the relief when I was was wheeled back to the ward again. I’ve tried really hard to appreciate every single moment of the last year and see it all as a gift.. I haven’t always succeeded and at some points I have probably let myself down quite badly, but I’m trying… I’m very trying apparently .

Into extra time.

March 12, 2017

A year ago this week my life took a drastic and surreal turn. It all sounds so dramatic now but the basic upshot is that I should have died. The start of last year wasn’t good for me for a number of reasons all too unpleasant to regurgitate here, let’s just say that on top of the near terminally narrowed arteries, the mental and physical strain should have finished me off. Suddenly being pulled out of your environment and having to deal with your own, very imminent, mortality does things to you. You realise what’s really important in life and you find out who your friends are and the silences are very very conspicuous. I think it’s fair to say that I had come off the rails at this point last year, between hideous revelation after hideous revalation, the effects of a life threatening illness I wrote off as the anxiety getting worse and the utterly vile medication I had to ingest that made me feel even worse than I already did, I did some very foolish and ill considered things. I certainly wasn’t proud of myself and still aren’t, looking back. I did do a lot of art though and I processed the experiences of ill health, mortality and recovery in a productive manner and that will always be there. There were over fifty artworks in that show alone and most of them weren’t totally rubbish, add to that all the other stuff and I can safely double, possibly treble that figure, I even sold a few. Then there was the other stuff, the bears, the commissions, the workshops and I’m topping the year out with something rather special that is going to make a lot of difference to some very lovely people. I think I’ve done alright, that isn’t bad for year one, it’s the next year I’m worried about…
Between the economic downturn and the government chiselling away at the support I receive for being disabled, this next year and, more worryingly, the year after, things are going to be tough to say the least and I am truly terrified whenever I think about it. Panicking doesn’t help though so I just keep my head down and focus on the things that are in my control rather than that which isn’t. Truth is, I don’t know what the next year holds but if I can look back on that and say I achieved as much as I did in this first year of extra time I will be happy. 
I think I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last year and a lot about the world too. I’ve learnt a lot about other people too and it was mostly good… Mostly…
What will I learn in the next year? Who knows? But so long as I keep learning, thinking, having ideas and creating it won’t be a waste of time. 

Hooooooo? Gaaaaaaa!

February 15, 2017

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the Danish concept of hygge. It’s one of those words that is impossible to translate literally, the nearest anyone can get is cosiness but it’s much more that. From what I can gather it’s all about acknowledging how bloody hard the winter months are and being especially kind to yourself. I seem to have done most of the key points by accident this year, what with sprucing up my flat for my artist’s interiors photoshoot, going on a Netflix and knitting binge that followed straight on a Netflix and teddy bear making binge. Just how rock and roll is that?  Well, I’ve done rock and roll and, do you know what? It’s really boring. Doing and of that stuff without being drunk or off your nut tends to be bloody tedious mostly. Sobriety is an excellent benchmark by which to judge most people or activities and a nice meal you prepared yourself, a hot bath in a lovely bathroom, some really lovely pyjamas, and evening of telly and making something, followed by bed in clean sheets and a big fluffy duvet and a really good book hits the spot nicely. 

I’ve had some really grim winters in my flat, pre central heating and pre thermal lined curtains,  as well as grim in the sense of the emotions and events that have surrounded them, I expect I will again, but at this moment I have achieved a small level of equilibrium where I can ride over the bumps in life without the wheels coming off. I am appreciating every moment of it while it lasts and long may it stay.

I am trying to embrace hygge or whatever it is for another reason too, which is to deal with the backlog of art and ideas I have been churning out as I can’t manage it anymore, there is too much of it and I’m swamped. This would be a good place for an “I need staff” diatribe but it’s not going to help just yet, so instead I am giving my admin head a chance to catch up with the creative one and semi informed home comforts does the trick quite nicely. I reckon I’ve got about a month of taking the evenings off before I get sucked into some grandiose scheme of my own making, but in the meantime, this knitting  won’t do itself. Byeeeee! 

Modern life is (partly) rubbish.

February 13, 2017

I’m getting to the point where I have to face facts. I’ve been trying to hide it, trying to avoid it but I just can’t cope anymore…..

I need to make a trip to Asda… There! I said it. Phew! It feels like such a weight off my mind.

Life can be such hard work when you suffer from panic attacks and the like. When you have that and something neurological like dyspraxia to deal with, everything becomes a trade off.

There is this thing called spoon theory. It’s used to explain the problems of having invisible illnesses to anyone lucky enough not to have one. It originated with a lady by the name of Christine Miserandino in 2003 who, whilst trying to explain her illness to a friend in a cafe, picked up a handful of plastic spoons.

Imagine you have ten spoons to last you a day….

One spoon summons you the strength to crawl out of bed. Another to make breakfast. And another to get dressed. So that’s three gone before you have even left the house. A stressful phone call can be three on its own, an argument five or more. Some days you can get to midday and all ten have all gone and it’s back under the duvet and start again. It can be possible to use more than ten but you will pay for it in the future. When I was in hospital last year for a week I think it cost a few thousand and I wasn’t anywhere near right for months. 

A solo visit to a large supermarket is around a six spoon event so it bloody well has to be worth the bother. You can survive off quick trips to local little shops and the small supermarket that does the basics for about six weeks or so but eventually you hit a tipping point , weirdly this time it was microwave popcorn that sent me over the edge.  There is always something, a little luxury or a desperate necessity that outways the strain of the trip. 

It’s hard finding an explanation as to how it feels, deep sea diving, a decent into hell. The further you get from the entrance, the deeper you get in the building, the more the pressure builds up. Every shopper blocking an aisle with a trolley, every item moved since your last visit, every tannoy, every flickering fluorescent light is another spoon gone and then at the end of it all the person on the checkout will insisted on asking you about your day. What I want to say is “Well, I’ve mostly been going barking mad thanks for asking.” But I just reply with something vague and chatty and there goes another spoon. 

The modern world is making us sick, the noise, the crowds, the lights, the inhuman scaled architecture, the computers, the constant barrage of information and white noise, the impinged privacy. Then again, without all this crap we wouldn’t have microwave popcorn, quorn or whatever drew me there in the first place. 

I like to hope that we are in the middle of something, that there will be a tipping point to a world of friendly flying drones and where money is some quaint notion from a bygone age. Until that day comes though, I will count my spoons and guard them carefully and get through another shopping trip in one piece .


February 12, 2017

I have toadstools in my bathroom! 

No, not real ones but a collection of spotty ones I’ve picked up over the years . There is also a giant troll in my toilet, which is apt of late. I noticed both on my hurried trip to the bathroom this morning, weighted down on a cold February morning by hoods, hats and jumpers.  I’m back in bed now and pondering how precious it is to have a home of my own and how one twist of fate can bring all that crashing down, but I’m not going there, not today. I am just greatful that somewhere in my head, even when it is cold enough to be barely habitable, I am still in love with my home and can appreciate that while I’m starting to turn blue. At least I am not in pain though…

This time last year I could barely notice anything, icy fingers of pain would grip me constantly, skilfully navigating though layers of clothing and into my very being. All I was aware of was pain and discomfort, the pain from the cold, the pain from the weight of warm clothing and most of all the pain from the medicine that was supposed to make me feel better. I still can’t wrap my head around it now, I was swallowing explosives on a daily basis. Can you picture that? I can’t help but cast my mind back to all those Road Runner cartoons I watched as a child with Wile E Coyote coming a cropper from one of his murderous plans. Some cell drawn BANG! plumes of smoke and swirling eyeballs that was all mended by the next scene. 

Swallowing explosives yourself is not much fun, knowing that it will make you feel just as shitty as it did the day before, and the day before, and the day before that. Just knowing that in approximately three hours you will feel sandpapered raw inside and out and left with all of Oliver Reed’s and George Best’s hangover headaches that they never got, and the worst part is that you have to do it to yourself. I won’t lie, I wasn’t fun to be around, I know I didn’t want to be around me, let alone any other poor sod. And this year … I’m not. Yay!  

It so nice not to to be chronically ill, it’s so nice to experience cold as, “brrr, bit chilly today!” Rather than some animalistic grunting and keening noises because you are doubled up in pain. It makes me so greatful that I can just concentrate on the good stuff in life and drop down a few gears mentally and just be pleased about the triviality of enjoying the jollity of a few bits of gewgaws and knick-knackery without a symphony of pain to draw away my focus. I like being silly and trivial, I’m not very good at it but, as an enthusiastically amateurish trivialist, I’m happy to drop down a gear once in a while and appreciate gaudy stuff and nonsense. 

I’m sure it won’t be long before I take that triviality and take it seriously, get sucked into some aspect of it and go off on one but until then…

“Aw! Wook at da cute face on dat toadstool! Bless”

The ghosts of Christmas past: dead man walking.

December 24, 2016

Of my 46 Christmases on this planet it is surprising, considering how terrible some of them have been, how easy it was to pick out an all time low and it is this one.

Pick a day, any day from the past year. Providing it wasn’t your birthday you would be hard pressed to remember what you were doing, even on the most awful or the most magical, it’s just a day. There were ones before and ones after until the one on which you die. But on days like Christmases and birthdays, they come around again and again and, after a while, patterns form. 

There are gifts you get given on certain days, some make everything in the world seem right but some, most even, just leave you feeling hollowed out inside. Of these there are the tangible ones, the ones that demonstrate how little someone knows you, like giving the goth Chris at seventeen a copy of micheal jackson’s Bad cd or the time I got three hideously expensive bottle openers after I had given up drinking alcohol. The worst gifts though are the intangible gifts of worthlessness, acts of apathy, thoughtlessness and unkindness that intentionally or not are guaranteed to knock your self esteem through the floor. This is one of those…

It has been a grim year, one of those where you meet inertia at every turn. I have had to do a lot of fighting throughout to keep my head about water both financially and mentally. I have fought all my life though, not with fists, I’m never violent, but with a constant iron will. You see people like me every day, the walking wounded, the bungled and the botched as Nietzsche described them, the flakes of human dust beneath the butterflies on a wheel. They fall through the gaps in life, casualties of capitalism, the necessary byproduct of a system designed to favour some more than others. Usually, when you fall, you stay fallen, you drift further down into homelessness, substance abuse, alcoholism, premature ageing and death. Patronised by some and exploited by others, people don’t come back from that. Me, I stopped myself, I dragged myself back to sobriety, to stability and started to make a career rather than a job as I slowly over the course of a decade crawled back up the sewer pipe of life into the world again. It all took its toll though, and left its mark.

It is rare to find true friends in this world, most people want to keep you stuck. It is often the case that when you are poor, they will not help you up the ladder out of poverty and if they are single or unhappy in their relationship, they will subtly and less subtly try and undermine  your relationships in turn and if they are really nasty and manipulative they will do it in such a way that you will probably end up being grateful to them for their support. If you find true friends, friends who will support you even when it means they will be getting less attention from you in the future, hang on to them, they are precious. I had a year of shitty people, gossipy, unpleasant, stupid, ignorant, self absorbed people, causing havoc. And I did exactly the wrong thing, I made it worse, I fought back, I let every stinking one of them know what I thought about them. It was fun at the time and there was and element of reward but it was as unwise and self destructive as a drunken tattoo. 

To me, the worst gift you can give is the gift of worthlessness, to demonstrate by your actions just how little someone means to you and how little they matter. The easiest way of guaranteeing that someone feels like shit, in my books, is to make sure that you choose the most appalling people to spend time with and the most pointless, and preferably actively harmful, things to be doing instead of spending time with them

Like I said it was a rough year, culminating with long hard days dragging equipment for miles and lying on cold concrete floors in December. And then I was left alone. Some bizarre misconstrued nonsense about a drawing of a Shepard and sheep, a passive aggressive excuse to walk away. Things went from bad to worse, unused tickets went in the shredder (again) I soldiered on for a while before a bad week and suicidal thoughts and then plans led me to my doctors surgery. For once I had a decent doctor, I hit all the red flags and received some serious attention and through sheer fluke and a chance comment he picked up something gravely serious. I had heart problems. In retrospect what I had was unstable angina excacerbated by stress induced cardiomyopathy and a 94% blocked left block aorta. Stress and heartbreak can be fatal apparently.

Things happened and appearances were made but the upshot of it was that I would be spending Christmas Day alone. Alone whilst a travesty went on around the corner, a farcical pretence at a family Christmas, perpetrated by people who had had their knives in each other’s backs all year long, I suspected there was an ulterior motive to this travesty and was proved right later but at that point it was enough of a snub considering my suspected condition. 

It was a squalling dark day of a Christmas, the cold bit into me. It was a constant toss up between feeling ill because of the cold and feeling ill because the weight of warmer clothes was just too much to cope with. I opened my presents, mostly bought for me, by me, the only way to prevent almost certain disappointment. The worst thing about Christmas though… No decent coffee, nowhere to go and have a walk by the sea. It was with grim determination that I made a flask of coffee, stuffed it in the capacious pocket of my  vintage mod parka and headed out into the cold, down towards the seafront. I think I got two hundred yards, I fought to breath, my left arm and fingers twinged  and stung and for every step I struggled forward I was painfully aware that I would have to struggle back again. I sadly turned around and went home, battered by the cold and sideways rain all the way. I had to use my heart spray on the way home, it is mostly nitroglycerin, the main ingredient in the explosive dynamite, it gets oxygen around your body but also leaves you a sweaty nauseous mess with a pounding headache like a brain hemorrhage. I took to my bed for many hours when I got in, waking again in the dark, above the pain in my chest and the pain in my head, the pain in my soul was far worse, knowing that I was worth so very little, as next to nothing as the laws of physics allow. Knowing that a life was going on around the corner, a life I was being slowly but constistantly pushed out of, a death of a romance by a thousand tiny cuts. Rather than distract me from my worthlessness, the pain framed it, gave it shape and form. The day went eventually, in minutes and seconds each like an age. I would like to say that things got better after that, but they didn’t. They never did.

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