The re-invention of solitude



Finding peace in solitude, Disjointedthinking (Jeff Hughes)

The Invention of Solitude is one of many novels by my favourite author, Paul Auster. His work has been a major influence on me and he is a silent mentor. Often, my internal dialogue is between me and him: I talk to myself, in my head, where my mentor resides. In there, things are created by an alchemy which can only work in the solitude I find in my inner voices.

All of my personalities are now in order and working well together. But the real me is still the one inside, the one who hides behind the words and disguises the anxiety.

The anxiety is probably the most debilitating aspect of my personal illness: Alcohol dependence, depression and several counts of PTSD, recognised as a disability by a tribunal judge last week and entitling me to PIP.

Just like the depression which holds all of my contributing conditions together, the anxiety part is difficult to explain because it’s so personal. It’s hard to convey how it feels because however I put it, it sounds irrational. Even at the moment, when everything is going so well, I still get anxious.

I’ve written before of how the various aspects of my illness might feel to someone else, in an attempt to get across just how debilitating they can be. A panic attack feels like being mugged: I know, as it’s happened to me. An anxiety episode feels like being stalked: I’m also qualified by experience of that one.

So why, when I have every reason to be happy, do I still feel anxious? I’m busy with freelance work, writing for clients and getting paid. I’m busy with writing under my own name: Still churning out short stories, editing my anthology and hoping to make some sales when it’s published in December. I’m happy doing both, because I love to write. So why, at the end of a productive day of work, do I still suffer anxiety? I don’t know.

In my day job as a freelance writer, I’m in my element: Reading for research, learning, writing for the education of others and loving every minute. Just today, I’ve written articles on progressive prescription lenses for an eye care website; and about Nicosia in Cyprus for a property company: Not subjects which would otherwise trouble me but I’ve enjoyed learning and passing that knowledge on in my own idiosyncratic way: a style which people seem to like. In the other part of my job as a fiction writer, I’ve continued with my next short story, Cardboard Sky:

As I continued to read George’s captain’s log, I realised that the fantastical situations he described could just as easily be real. I only had to read between the lines to see the parallels. It took a while because George described his night time adventures in a dream-like state. It required a lucidity of the reader like that of the writer to imagine the sub-texts.

Or perhaps I was simply dreaming in the world around me as George dreamed in his. He wrote of things he encountered in his sleep, as though he were dreaming as he wrote. I was fully awake as I read his words, relating them to the world around me. I wonder whether my words betray my waking state? It would be for a reader to tell me but a writer cannot hear a reader.

My short stories now are deeper and longer than the schlock horror I used to write, because the life I’ve made enables me to craft each one more carefully. Consequently, my anthology will have fewer than the promised 42 stories but those that are left and still being written are much better works. I love all aspects of the life I’ve divided up to make one. I’m passionate about writing, yet I’m still anxious.

Anxiety is the feeling that something is about to go wrong: Not at any minute but sometime and in a massive way. It’s a feeling of impending doom, with no idea where that next shit sandwich might come from. Everything is good for me but there’s still that feeling. Everything can change, suddenly and forever.

That’s the frustrating thing about mental illness: It can be irrational and unfathomable. I’m very intelligent and as such, I get frustrated when I don’t understand something. I’ve been saying for a long time that my high IQ is a poisoned chalice. Depression does tend to favour the enquiring mind. But I’ve written also of the big red button and whether I’d press it: If there were a button I could press, which switched off the anxiety but also caused me to stop questioning, would I press it? The answer is still a resounding “No”.

So, I’m on benefits: I’ve proven my entitlement to them. They are what they say on the papers: Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Once they’re coming in, they do what it says on the tins.

But I’m not just sitting on my arse. I do have a job and it’s the only one I can do, with my conditions: The judge recognised this. I’m not pissed but I’m an alcoholic: If I drink to excess again, it will all go wrong. I’m happy and content but I have depression and anxiety. I’m sad but I’m happy: Isn’t it ironic? I receive benefits but I’m a professional writer. I’ve got one hand in my pocket but the other one is giving a peace sign.

Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky. There’s hope for everyone. That’s what makes the world go round.”

(Paul Auster).

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