Yγνῶθι σεαυτόν

April 28, 2017

Or ‘know thyself’ in English is written on the temple of Apollo in Delphi many thousands of years ago. It’s one of the key rules of living a sane and healthy life.

Today I know myself but I dearly wish I didn’t. What I know is that whilst in some ways I am extremely resilient, in others I am a very fragile person. I have learnt what is likely to break me over the years, noise that can’t be shut off, claustrophobic situations, chaos, drunk people (see chaos), nasty people… I won’t bore you, it’s a long list. However hard I have tried in the past, through cbt, through beta blockers, through ssri’s, the panic has broken through and I’ve gone hurtling away at breakneck speed from the point of stress. I’ve run out of Mayfair cafes to surface in Islington with bloody feet and a broken spirit, I’ve run home from plays and planned suicide, shot out of cars in the middle of arguments, countless irrational panic responses that can’t be controlled no matter how hard I try. That’s the problem with hidden illnesses, if you were wheelchair bound and you had to attend an event in a building without ramps, lifts and dedicated bathroom facilities, there would be a public outcry, the sympathy would mass behind you and the story would make its way into the newspapers. With a hidden illness, though, most people just roll their eyes and mutter “weirdo’ or such under their breath. This government isn’t helping with its, pick on the most vulnerable, strategy. I look forward to a time when we look back in horror at what we deemed as acceptable behaviour, back in the dark days. From the casual racism on television up until the 1970’s through to the chain smoking Fred Flintstone an drampant  homophobia as recently as the eighties, I hope that one day people will look back in horror at the thoughtlessly excluding situations that they created. We are a long way from that now though and the arbitary hidden illness predudice affects me constantly.

So this is my dilemma, the one I always have to face. Do I try to fight against the illness when a situation brings it up, knowing that it could plunge me into weeks of severe depression if it goes wrong or do I except it and just hate on myself for a few days? Plus there is always the cumilitive total of the “what a rude, odd, anti social guy that Chris is.” whispers and opinions to consider. 

Today is a landmark birthday for one of my closest and most loved friends and there will be a party thrown for her and a friend of the same age. I started doing the risk assement for it a long while ago, crowds of people, loud music, plenty of booze and therefore plenty of drunk people… There were a few plus points though, lots of lovely people who I know will be there and there is an outdoor area which would service as a welcome break from everything that pushes my buttons but then there were two other factors that swung it, due to the joint nature of the party and the inevitable six degrees of separation factor of their friends and partners, there will be some absolute wankers in attendance, between having to suffer their presence and knowing to whom they will be reporting back, the are a definite negative on the list. The night of the party also coincides with yet another in the unending circle of tedious events on the boozers’ and exhibitionists’ calendar and the town will be chock full of arseholes yet again. So, after much soul searching, my decision was made or rather made for me. 

And yet I will still hate myself for it, even though my close friends understand and even expect and plan for it, it still hurts. Plus, from a selfish point of view, my inability to attend many social occasions shuts down countless options for me. I see so many lucrative projects locally that can be pinned down to the people around the table in a particular pub or a dinner party, funding options and opportunities divied out over a pint or a glass of wine. Mind you, it also goes to explain why so many things that occur are of such poor and unprofessional quality, a meritocracy it ain’t. I console myself with the knowledge that I neither have to work with nor be in the proximity of unpleasant people, which makes life a lot more bearable. It also hampers one’s chance of finding romance as not going to parties, pubs, etc makes meeting people much harder. When people have lowered their inhibitions with alcohol and have to circumvent normal rules of personal space to shout in someone’s ear over the loud music, intimacy becomes much easier. That said, it’s been a long time since I’ve woken up to the regrets and results of a poor romantic decision made at a messy party or boozy pub night. Plus, for me, meeting people under such circumstances would give someone the impression that I’m happy do such things in the future, causing friction with any potential partner more attuned to socialising, as before though, it minimises my contact with arseholes, which is a small comfort.

There is a world out there full of people like myself, if we are a minority, it is a huge one. We rarely meet though because, well, see above. sone of us are lucky enough to make it (whatever that means) or find love, some even do both, but for most of us it’s the mental equivalent some hideous physical illness or other that I dare not put into words for the shit storm of “how dare you compare your trivial ailment to… Insert illness here”. So we just suffer in silence, well, except for mouthy gits like me who burn more bridges than those carpet bombing major cities and have nothing left to lose.

So tonight, it’s bath, jim jams and a book like every other night, alone. While a world that is closed and barred to me goes on out there regardless.


Freefall

April 4, 2017

As I touched upon the last week, the panic attacks and anxiety that I have struggled with for all of my life have been getting  worse over the last couple of months. I know what started it off and I am still waiting for an explanation from someone complicit in those events. It was told by a close friend of mine who gets the same feelings when she has finished a big project that it could be that making it worse, and that is exactly where I was last week when all my fears and worries kicked into overdrive. The duvet days, the health complaints, the comedy vomitting sessions and all the other nonsense came back with a vengeance. 

I’ve been working on a major project until recently and my time has been quite regimented, it’s something that is actually going to make a big difference to some people’s lives and, most importantly, no one will get exploited or patronised anywhere along the way. Now though, I am back to doing the usual stuff again, mainly speculative work, and I’m finding it a little scary. I’ve found that if I don’t worry too much and just follow my ideas, and my augmented heart, then the resources to continue always land in my lap.  I can tell myself that rationally but feeling it is another matter. 

This morning though, Facebook came up trumps for once. Amidst the shoes, Japanese stuff and total lack of any local dross there was a memory from eight years ago. It was just an old piece of artwork that I had done, nothing spectacular but it took me back to where I was at that point, which was very mentally unwell, stranded in a strange town with no friend except for one frenemy who was systematically draining me of money and generally taking advantage of my good nature. It’s a horrible position to be in and it took me a long while to get out of, and even then I actually missed the person and the exploitative structure of my life at the time. We are odd creatures humans, we even miss and romanticise about the appalling stuff, bizarre! I hate seeing people being exploited, there is so much of it that goes on and it amazing just how many people keep getting away with it on some level or another. 

I can still remember the year of sleepless nights, the weird little acts of spite i had to injure. There was a year that I would describe as complete hell. Then, once my life had settled down, after a few constructive years of hard work on myself and building up a full and rewarding life to lead. I had friends, projects to focus on and I had to face all my fears and conquered some and learnt to manage others. It wasn’t easy, it never is, but it was a life and it was my own.

Then came along the state sponsored holocaust that is the employment and support allowance and around three more years of hell on earth. The sham medicals that would have done Joseph mengele proud, early morning queues outside the junkie central doctors surgery (now mercifully burnt down) for a sick note from a shit doctor that I wasn’t allowed to jettison until after the kafkaesque tribunal I had to undergo before the whole procedure started again. And all the while, where were the local great and the good? All those wankers who watched I am Daniel Blake and decided to have a meeting about it. I have no words, just a battery acid lick of disgust in my mouth for every sham socialist and their fickle, self congratulatory bullshit. John and Janey come latelys, the whole stinking lot of them…. And breath. And relax! 

The last couple of years have been no picnic either, but whilst the shit has flown like a sewage farm spilling out in a wind turbine I have pushed my life ever forward. Bigger shows, more merchandise, murals, workshops  and, most importantly, the learning from my many mistakes along the way. I’m not bragging here, I’m just trying to remind myself that I am not the worthless piece of shit that my mind is doing its best to tell me that I am today as it does on many days of late. 

This is where I’m at right now, waking up shaking, reminding myself that everything that has happened has happened for a purpose. I just keep telling myself this will be another kick start to a better place in life, like the lack of someone draining my funds and and getting out of the meatgrinder that is being mentally disabled and being on a government created sham benefit system before them. Is it working? Not really, well it doesn’t feel like it yet at least but I just keep trying. Through all the duvet days and the anxiety and my blood occasionally running cold, I keep telling myself that this is all good for me and that one day I shall look back at my chaos free, toxic people free, positive life and feel thankful that it all happened. Today, though, is not that day. Today is maggots under the skin, wasp larvae in my brain, time crawling, sod the futility of it all, crawl under the duvet and grab a few more snatched hours of oblivion awful. Then I look at all the work I need to do, the photoshop backlog, the tits and teeth schmoozing, the catching things before they turn nasty and some random deity forbid I actual make some art. That when the weight of it starts to crush me, and I spin out again, maybe I should learn how to cry on cue so a get a bit of sympathy from all and sundry.

One day though, one day. This will all be worth it.


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.


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 .


Panic?

October 14, 2016

I started writing this as a form stress release and distraction, yesterday I went to bed all afternoon with chest pains. Today I woke up with them, and numb fingers, both signifiers that my heart problems could be coming back. They could have meant other things, the most likely being the panic attacks that have plagued me for as long as I can remember.  It actually came as some relief  a couple of hours later when I started getter a high temperature as in all likelihood I have just picked up a bug somewhere. Over the last year or so it has dawned on me that living life without a romantic relationship or family in close proximity is a scary thing, I have wonderful supportive friends but I am also concious of not taking advantage of them, I’ve seen what happens when friends turn your life into an extension of theirs and the results aren’t pretty. My independence means a lot to me and it is hard to ask anything of anyone at the worst of times and the thought of being as vulnerable as I was earlier this year is terrifying. 

Terrifying… And in that one word we have the source of the problem. It’s hard trying to work out what your body is feeling when it is flooded by the responses designed for our cave dwelling ancestors to escape wild animals on a daily basis. That is why, last year, on the second most miserable Christmas that I have ever had, I managed to get fifty yards down the road before the crushing pain in my chest and the numbing pins and needles sensation in my left arm made me turn back and go to bed for the day, comfort and joy my arse, I actually still thought that there was still a fair possibility that I was still having a panic attack. 

It’s amazing how a human being’s mind can do itself so much damage that it can  be almost identical to a heart attack, how  all those bodily systems that should quietly be ticking away, minding their own business, suddenly start acting up and demanding attention, chest thumping, heart racing, shallow breaths and the shakes.  I’ve got so used to managing the symptoms over the years that it was almost my undoing, constantly trying to divert my mind and risk asses situations so as to minimise their occurrences, avoiding common triggers, enclosed and overcrowded places, loud noise, drunk / potentially aggressive people, in other words having much of a social life and in the boozy, druggy, attention seeking town I live in, pretty much none. It manifests with people in different ways, I’ve had to stand back and watch as someone I care about flushed their life away trying to avoid any confrontation with their friends and family that would set off a panic attack, witnessing their time, energy and money being chiselled away into nothing for fear of upsetting anyone and causing friction, watching as the demands got more and more unreasonable  and the lengths they had to go to to stay in everyone’s good books got more ridiculous. If you aren’t careful that need to avoid panic and unfortable situations can leave you at a point where you have missed all your chances in life for no more reason than lacking the courage to take them. You are a long time dead, it’s important to bear than in mind always. 

It gets to a point though where one has no life at all and I have been there. I now manage my panic attacks in various ways, the first being learning to let oneself of the hook when things go wrong and you have a bad day. What’s done is done and if I lose a day to a panic attack, so be it, if I lose a friend, well, they weren’t really a freind in the first place. Secondly, know yourself, know your limitation, challenge them occasionally if you can but never be affraid to speak up if you feel you are being forced into something harmful to you, it’s ok to say no. Thirdly learn techniques that help you, be that distraction, cognitive behavioural therapy, neurolinguestic programing, tapping, aromatherapy, whatever works, we are all different. Finally, go and get a check up at the doctors from time to time, while the last thing I want to do is give anyone cause to panic further but stress and panic can cause heart disease, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

P.S it probably was my heart. Bugger!


The fox and the scorpion.

August 10, 2016

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. 


The unbearable shiteness of shopping.

December 31, 2015

shoppingApparently, it is both illegal and socially unacceptable to drop complete strangers with a cattle prod for getting in your way, or for anything else for that matter. I very rarely go into town and even more rarely go in any of the chain stores but seeing as today I thought I would try and buy something in an actual psychical shop. I had a few set missions and I failed in all of them. New pyjamas from Marks and Spencer’s , failed! None in my size. New underpants in same, failed! They were all really boring. The next thing I wanted to do was to compare kindles. I failed in that too. Am I going mad or did Waterstones used to have a kindle section? I never could get it to make sense myself but I’m sure they did. A bookstore selling digital e readers? Definitely  in the turkeys campaigning for Christmas category. Anyway, they don’t anymore and what they do sell is either far more expensive than I could get it for online or… THERE WERE PEOPLE IN THE WAY!!! As someone who gets panick attacks in crowds and when I feel trapped, I try and minimise the time I have to spend in shops and other people just get in the way. They pick things up, stand in front of things, get in front of you in queues and generally make a bloody nuisance of themselves. The only thing I did see in there that I did want was so overhandled that it might as well have been second hand and it certainly wasn’t priced that way. I had a similar situation in HMV, people, overpriced stuff, grrr! In all three chain stores a had the same thought, “what is the point in you?” My whole reason in wanting and e reader, kindle whatever is much the same. As far as I can see it, the publishing industry, as with chain stores, is making itself a total irrelevance. I recently read the, self published, autobiography of maveric author Robert Rankin, in which he talks about the way that the publishing companies are starting to disappear up their own backsides. Requesting their authors to produce works that ape those of other bestsellers, responding to market trends rather than going where their imagination takes them. Consequently, the more interesting writings are starting to appear in electronically published formats that circumvent the market lead publishing industry. Hence the sudden need for a kindle. It’s a situation that hasn’t been helped by the deaths of Iain Banks and Terry Pratchett, there are so few new books to look forward to. It’s such a shame as I adore books, the smell, the weight of words in one’s hands the feel of paper… I find it such a strange irony, I create things, colouring books, t shirts, teddy bears, paintings, all sorts of things, all of which require the thing I find so hard to cope with, people. It is strange, I am a person who looks at films like “I am legend” (although I prefer the “omega man” on which is was based) or dystopian fiction like “the drowned world” and find them strangely comforting. The notion of a deserted world really does have something that is rather appealing. And yet there are people I love, people I like and people I need. I am painfully aware that some of those people who block my path to a swift exit of a shop, want the same things as I do and so put the prices of said things up, people who have booked up the cinemas so I can’t watch  the new Star Wars yet. Even some of the people who may make a nuisance of themselves tonight, being New Year’s Eve, are the same people who buy my stuff, staff the hospital I need to go to, create medicine, make food… The truth is, although I hate to admit, I need people. There! I said it! It doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it though.


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