Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 20 Feb 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Emotional vulnerability

My breakdown put me in a car and drove me to a place before leaving me with one simple set of instructions. They were that I was to continue to walk from there by myself. And as I continue on from the catastrophic moment of that first collapse, which sped me through mental changes and realisations at a bewildering speed, I now slowly journey onwards through strange towns of my mind that I had never known existed. I’m in one now. It doesn’t have a name, so much as create a feeling, and that feeling is the sudden awareness that I don’t know how to ask for emotional help.

If you’re lucky enough to live your entire life, as I was doing, without self-examination or doubt that your way is the right way, you won’t know this feeling. But having been checked once by the onset of serious mental illness, I’m more likely than ever before to doubt that my way of doing things is the right one. I did a brief yoga course with a brilliant instructor who said he had come out of rehab years before with one phrase planted firmly in his memory: ‘my best thinking got me here,’ by which he meant, of course, that what he thought was brilliant and sophisticated thinking had ended with him receiving quite a serious psychiatric intervention.

As it is with me. Firming up a well-paid and potentially interesting job in Prague means that now, more than ever, I need the love and support of my partner. And I have it, of course, but I’m wholly and utterly unable to articulate my need for it, especially at moments when, to an outsider, it may seem like I am coping perfectly well. Just like a teenager who is at her or his most vulnerable and in need of love when they are being the most resolutely unlovable, these are the moments when I am crying out for her care. My best thinking says don’t ask for support and my best thinking is very, very wrong.

Part of this is, I think, being an only child. Almost everything in my adult life that I have done I have done alone. Going to university and then staying there, despite huge doubts, had to be done entirely solo, with nobody to help me make the decision. Leaving and moving to London was also done alone, as was the decision to pursue a postgrad and then enter journalism. I went from staff to freelance, also alone, and every big decision I took about my career was made in isolation. Faced with a big life event, I would no sooner have asked advice than expected to fly by flapping my arms. My parents are fine and clever people, but they were over a hundred miles away and by the time I was 16, I was already the first member of my family to spend such a long time at school. When they were 16, they were working. I had another five years’ education in front of me.

This, I realise now, has been a fairly poor education for life as a social human being. Everyone has to ask for help and there are things that nobody can do by themselves, or else we’d all be left on a remote mountainside as babies and grow up by taking things from there. When we seek out the advice of a doctor, live in a house that someone else has built or even walk down a road, we are tacitly saying that the experience of someone else is been useful to us and that we could not have done it ourselves. And it’s the same, I know, with our mental lives, too. The brute force that shoved me out of my teenage bedroom and into a career ended up breaking me and is no use to me now, at all. I need to ask for help.

But I don’t have the words or, rather, the understanding that precedes the words. I watched a dramatisation of the Karen Matthews story tonight, in which an actress played the woman who had arranged the abduction of her own child in return for, what she hoped would be the reward money. As I’m sitting there, alternately feeling revulsion and pity at what I saw as her stupidity, it’s something I’m no less guilty of. I can’t form words which would tell my partner that I’m mortally afraid or, sometimes, ask for a hug when I’m feeling at my most lost and alone. Instead, it’s all kept behind a wall of concrete on the other side of which sits, as it sometimes feels, a boy who is about twelve years old and crying for reasons he doesn’t understand.

The fear is that I will ask for help and nobody will hear or respond, but that, it seems to me, is like never going into your bathroom for fear that it isn’t really there. You either spend your entire life having a crap in the corner of your living room for fear that a room which you have good reason to believe is there isn’t actually present at all, or you shrug off the paranoia and go and open the door with frosted glass in it and have a nice poo and a shower. Humans aren’t perfect creatures and I know that when I open up to people some of them will rebuff me on purpose or through uncertainty. But my partner won’t, because she always tells me that she loves me and nor will her family, who have created a place where I’ve finally found unconditional acceptance after forty odd years pinballing around in search of it.

Knowing something in theory, even writing it down like this so that it exists in black and white, occupies one realm and actually living in the light of its truth occupies another. Support is available to me, but I need to learn how to ask for it and what the parameters of that help are, rather than guessing, and you only learn that by experience. Right now, that seems fairly scary, but there really is no alternative beyond carrying on going through life as an eternally fearful, lopsided human being afraid to allow people in.

There was, aeons ago, an episode of the cult TV series, Star Trek, which said that there were three words in the English language that, when combined, were more beautiful than any other. Were this to be trite bit of writing, they would be ‘I love you,’ but they weren’t. Instead, they were ‘please… help me,’ which stands as a fine and emotionally honest piece of writing and a good way to live your life. So they have become mine. I need help and can, perhaps for the first time, compass my own vulnerability and start, just start, asking for help with the burden.

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