Swimming through the grass, cutting names into trees, writing words in the sand, before they’re swept out to sea…
For a friend who’s lost the plot. Like I’ve been left so many times, they just want to be by themselves…
Identity lost in the post. Hold on to the handrail, keep your head up kid.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
There are few people like me, who wander around the perimeter of mental health, sometimes just to test the water at the shore. Several thousand of us are barely noticed in a world of billions of contradictions.
We can walk for mental miles before we find a fellow human we can engage with, then when drinking at the pool of life, the same conversation ensues:
“Can I interfere in your crisis?”
“No, mind your own business.”
Fall asleep with a cigarette, to the flicker of a TV set…
This is me and thousands of others, and I have a friend who’s unlike me in all respects but for one commonality: We sometimes find life around us so confusing that the only person who might make sense of it is ourselves. And even then, we get confused and we don’t talk. We try, but in the end, it’s only to ourselves.
Friends try to talk to the person inside which doesn’t understand itself, so we push them away. We’d prefer reasoned debate to conflict but we punch walls because they can’t talk. Mirrors don’t fight back either.
Once we’ve punched all the barriers away, we’re left drinking alone, while kindred spirits live in another country on the other side of the water. Distant nomads, thinly-spread on the human landscape like Marmite on toast, neurotribes look away from their reflection in the drink.
SEVERAL THOUSAND MANIACS
There’s an oasis we don’t see, because we’re too busy looking into the pool of our own lives, rarely daring to look up. But deep in that reflection is the admission that we’re only fighting with ourselves, punching water and making ripples: contradictions.
“Is that your personal crisis over there?”
“Shall we skim a pebble? It might look up.”
“Should we do that? We might hit it in the head and fuck it up.”
“Fuck yeah. If we don’t, the neurotribes will have one less introspective maniac to reflect on. Personal crises have a habit of becoming self-consuming and aren’t so good at swimming.”
We are the mental health rejects, introverts, alone on opposite shores and other planets: our own, invaded by so many middle-class pretenders. But we’re several thousand maniacs together, and we can spot the interlopers from a mile away on a world where only the truly mad can survive.
“Keep your head up kid, I know you can swim. But ya gotta move your legs.” (Augustines)
We won’t all find meaning in life, but it’s nice to spend the one we have with people who provide glimpses into another world, wherever they’re from. The flicker of a TV set.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
At a time of year when I see friends on Facebook posting their year in review and wishing a happy new year to all, I wanted to do the same, but I can’t. Even though I’m a writer with a public access blog, I find the exposure of Facebook too much, and besides, there are still people there who judge me on past deeds for which I’ve made amends. In any case, this is too long for the average attention span on Facebook. Nevertheless, I’m anxious.
I didn’t know where to start with this. With all I’m going through (dad unwell, my personal independence payment taken away, depression, anxiety…) it’s hard to know where it begins and ends. And that’s what’s been putting me off of writing lately. But even as I write this, I’m reminded that writing is my only coping mechanism for my mental health when I’m on my own. Rather than start from the very beginning, this is the middle of an episode.
I’m typing from notes I scribbled longhand in a pocket notebook my kids bought me, which compliments the time machine I wear on my wrist. But I was in danger of running out of space in that inner heart, so I’m transcribing my pencil (naturally, the Staedtler Norris 122).
I see my friends posting those year-end sentiments, and I envy them. They’re able to say what I can’t, for fear of judgement. What I have and they don’t, is a self-loathing for all the harm I did when I was drunk (five years ago now). I’ve rebuilt the bridges I burned, but others can’t find it in themselves to do that. I know I’m better off without that toxicity in my life, but it hurts to lose old friends who simply aren’t prepared to talk and learn. As the same species on this lone planet which we all share as a home (and which we’ve broken) humanity itself could fail by its own devices, unless we keep talking.
So to those still reading, to anyone who found their way over from Facebook, and my blog followers, thanks. Thanks for being you, and for being there, even if you didn’t know that’s where you were. You don’t see me when I wobble, but you’re there without knowing it before I fall down. You don’t grab your hands out for me, but my mind latches onto you. I wouldn’t expect you to know what I’m going through, nor my daily life, because we never talk, and because humans don’t do that any more. Writing is my way of talking, and I know you’re there, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
At the end of any day, week, or cliché, love and music make the world go round. There was a time when I though physics did that, but now I realise it’s biology. Because there’s no substitute for a hug with a fellow human, nor any of our cousins, the animals who were here first. While I may be alone, I still have this connection with the rest of the world.
I’m an introvert who finds conversation difficult with anyone besides friends. Even now as I bear my soul and write this, I don’t want to talk about it. When I publish, a part of me will want to take it down again, lest it attract offers of help.
When someone with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue tells you they’re having a hard time, and trusts you enough to tell you, they aren’t doing it because they want you to fix them. They’re telling you because they believe you’re important enough to them to know why they’re not feeling one hundred percent. Respect them for doing that, because they clearly respect you.
Happy New Year, peace and goodwill to all humanity and everyone else whose planet we’re squatters on. Personally, 2019 can’t be as bad as the annus horribilis just gone, much of which was consumed by my battle with the UK government’s social cleansing apparatus. Hopefully I’ll win my appeal tribunal, regain my independence and get my life back. In the UK and around the world, all we need to do is keep talking, even if it’s not in the conventional manner.
Never under-estimate your importance as a human to another conscious entity, no matter how selfish we are as a species. For as long as I have you readers, I’ll keep writing, lest old acquaintance be forgot.
After posting that, two of my friends – old grammar school friends in fact – got in touch, via Facebook funnily enough (via my author page)…
Whatever you’re doing tonight, I hope you enjoy it. 2018, like many years before it, has managed to suck and blow concurrently. In another rotation, we can review 2019 …
… but only briefly.
I was talking to my dog, Pigsy, about you earlier and he said that both of us need to follow Dog’s law. They make a whole lot more sense than the anagram equivalent.
Pigsy went for a walk this morning. I know he enjoyed it but it’s gone now. He’s not wasting time reflecting on whether it was better or worse than any other walk he’s had. Equally, he’s completely forgotten that he ran at the front door so hard & grabbed the mail that the poor fucking Postie had to change his shorts. No, he’s no recollection of the impact with the door, my shouting or the Postie’s pants.
I asked him about tomorrow. He didn’t know what a tomorrow was. I said it was the thing that comes after now. He looked at me with that tilted head that Jack Russell’s have perfected and said “the bit after now, is now … it’s always now, you prick. You still believe you’re the dominant species, right?”
He’s always been a smart arse has my Pigsy but he had a point.
Past events make good stories, but they’re not worth ruminating over. They’ve been. They’ve happened. They’re gone. Unless you’re at the centre of a black hole I suppose, but then everything is happening at once and it all gets horribly non-linear.
Tomorrow. Well, it’s a new year – or it’s a Tuesday. It’s up to us. But, it’s tomorrow and it’s not ‘now’ yet.
Pigsy knows he’ll be going for a walk tomorrow. I’m sure he does; but he’s not arsed in the slightest about it right now. Right ‘now’, he’s stretched across my bed and made it pretty much impossible for me to lie down comfortably. I can’t move him though – he’s making the very best of now you see.
I reckon we should give that a go.
Don’t forget the past & don’t abandon planning your future … but let’s not lose sight of what’s happening now. We’ll miss something new because we were troubling over something old.
I’m not sending this privately in Messenger because I’m happy to wish you a happy new year.
You are where you are because of how you were wired from before you exited the womb. What happens in the future is already decided; not by god or any higher power but by synaptic connections that started their mechanics nigh on half a century ago. Luckily (or currently), there are too many variables to track to predict where we will be next year – so we can still pretend it was a choice.
Even shorter version – I truly hope your hard wired program has an exit for the subroutine that you call to beat the shit out of yourself. It’s time to leave that behind.
The Earth spins, and travels around the sun. The Milky Way galaxy spins, so that in a day, we each travel around 50m km, every day. So we’re in a different place now, and we’ll be in another in just a moment. Like when the second one came in:
Didn’t want to reply to blog post publicly but hope things pick up for you soon but the main thing I wanted to say was whatever else you do (or don’t do) don’t stop writing… Put simply, writing got you through some awful times before (at least that’s how it looked for the outside). You not wanting to write now should be seen as your ‘inner demons’ trying to make a bad situation worse for you. They are opportunistic like that and worse still no matter how clever you are they are equally clever and you can’t hide anything from them! So grab a pad and your tried, tested & trusted Staedtler Norris 122 and spew it all out onto paper, you don’t have to let anyone else see it as, much of it you won’t want to share with others and that doesn’t matter because committing things to paper seems to be a cathartic act for you.
Names withheld, because at least one is as publicity-shy as me, but I know where they live.
To finish off, my next door neighbour did my laundry today, as my washing machine broke down and I can’t afford a new one. He also bought me a box of chocolates. It’s that connection again, almost as though humans are starting to develop telepathy, just as the animals have been communicating for millions of years. And as I’ve noted in the past, open a box of biscuits, take a dog for a walk, and he’s pretty much nailed the day (in Cyrus Song). But there was more: Someone bought a book, another bought me a coffee.
It’s not even next year yet, but things just got better already. I didn’t brick it and take the post down. In fact, I posted it on my Facebook personal timeline. I’m always keen to make new friends there as well as here, and new followers on my author page, where posts besides these blog entries are more suited to a shorter attention span.
Thanks again for getting all this way. You don’t have to meet someone in person to be a kindred spirit. All of this keeps me going and makes it all worthwhile. It’s time to move on, water under the rebuilt bridges, whether travelled or not. Happy New Year, for the sake of old times and new.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
There’s little fictional about the roles I play in the real lives of others, but there’s little I can write about the private affairs of other people’s hearts. The many parts of me which play those roles and tend to others’ wishes, all sometimes wish for something else.
Dystopian art by Alex Andreev
With so many other people’s lives piled on top of my own in my mind, parts of me sometimes wish I could escape, perhaps to not be needed enough (when I should find it flattering), or to not be taken advantage of.
I’m friend and confidante, surrogate parent and sibling; I’m banker, counsellor, lawyer, and psychologist; I’m an empath, a guide, and a guardian; yet I have none of these things myself, despite a human need.
Humans thrive on contact with each another, but I often resist, because of the humans I know. When loneliness makes me crave another human, I attract the wrong kind. I can rarely rest for any prolonged period, because I’m always expecting an interruption from the needy. And I wouldn’t mind, if I got something back.
I don’t have much myself, but I manage what I have, then others ask for it when they themselves run out: Money, tobacco, and even food. Much of it is lent in a time of apparent need but never returned.
Sometimes my patience is tried, and I’m tired. I’m able to deal with the needy things on a daily and individual basis, thanks to my venomous mouth, but like most snakes, I prefer not to bite unless necessary, and avoid conflict until it brings itself to me. Like when I was recently asked if I could lend someone some money:
After explaining that I had no money until I received my own benefits the following week (which I didn’t have to do), then that I needed the money, I was asked why? I further explained that this was none of their fucking business, but that I was visiting my parents, to help get my dad to a hospital appointment in London. I was further interrogated on when I’d be leaving, then a suggestion was made: that I could draw out some money before I left. Although I’ll help people in genuine need, I don’t respond calmly and quietly to passive aggression.
The part of me with OCD would rather not have to tidy up behind people; the paranoid, anxious one who suffers PTSD would rather sleep well at night, knowing there’ll be no interruptions or early morning calls; and the real-life one with chronic depression would just like to be asked how I am sometimes, by those who make those parts of me worse.
I don’t mind helping people, but it would be nice if others sometimes helped me. They wouldn’t have time, but I could at least let them know I need less from them. I don’t like being alone, but sometimes I’m forced to shut myself away, to head off the tide of people pushing towards me, in this life which often seems a one-way street. It affects my ability to sleep, perchance to dream lucidly and escape for a while.
I’m resolutely single, because I travel with my own atmosphere, but also because of my mistrust of the human race, based on the subjects who’ve demonstrated their human empathy so poorly. I want attention, but not the kind of unwanted attention I attract. I crave contact, but only with those who understand me, the paradoxical enigma. I need to see a shrink.
I’m socially anxious, so I can’t deal with multiple diagnoses requiring me to travel for treatment. The waiting list for psychiatric treatment (I need weekly sessions with a psychologist) is so long, that I daren’t bother it, when others might need it more. When it comes to my next fitness-for-work assessment, it’ll most likely go to tribunal (my third) because there’s little on my medical file, further dehumanising me.
One day, other people might just push a part of me too far. Then if there’s no-one there to catch me – like I have so many others – they’ll have no banker, adviser or friend. Guardianship by angel will then be my own choice, of those I wish to haunt.
A small part of me sometimes wishes everything would just leave me alone, or that I could escape the social inequality of this planet, but it’s only one of many small parts.
Life on the streets was somehow easier, when there were no ties and humans helped their fellow kind. Life was two-way traffic there. Like way back when, it’s why I have to write it all down here.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
There’s much in my real life which I’d like to write about, but which for various reasons I can’t. There are stories developing which could end well or otherwise, and there are others with endings very much open. There are concerns for the health of at least one relative, and many other people’s situations I’m helping in. One story I can now tell, could have gone very badly, and it’s only just beginning.
Like so many of the young people I’m still in touch with, I met Courtney when I was homeless. I met most of the others while I sat writing in McDonald’s, or later, when I’d established the squat (in an old commercial premises). An initial ‘No minors’ policy in my temporary hermit’s home quickly fell apart, when first one teenager found it and others inevitably followed. In time it became a peaceful anarchy of lost boys and young suffragettes.
My main fear was preconditioned perceptions. Although everyone at the squat was respectful of the neighbours, young girls visiting an older guy is bound to get the thought police thinking wrongly. So began on ongoing battle with the plastic police and defective detectives, who would jump to conclusions and assume that my conduct was inappropriate, despite never enquiring to find out. On any given day, I’d be camped out on a mattress somewhere, with sometimes half a dozen schoolgirls sitting with me. It would be wrong to envy me, for all I heard from those troubled young minds.
If those judges unfit for purpose had attended some sort of anti-kangaroo court, they might have learned the truth. They’d learn little though, as most of what was discussed was intensely private. Those young people (and they were mainly girls) mostly had complex backgrounds and many were without an older guardian, or frightened of the ones they had. To them, I might have been some radical, travelling, free-spirited writer, but most of all, I became an older wise friend they could talk to outside of their peer group.
For me, it was something to do. Those young people gave me purpose and helping them out with words of advice was rewarding. Some of them are doing some amazing things now (a forensic science student, a budding equestrian…) For the most part, they told some fascinating and tragic stories, and I was always touched that they’d chosen to confide in me. And there were never any drugs.
This was all known to the real police, as the squat was just up the road from the nick: I’d been on the wrong side of them (and stayed there) when I’d stolen some food, and they knew where I lived by then. Every so often, a couple of PCSOs (Laura and Mary) or local plain clothes officers (John and another) would pop in after school, just to see who was there, and if they were all okay (many of the youngsters were known to the law as well).
At six o’clock their mummies and daddies wouldn’t come to pick them up, but they’d disperse into the evening and whatever waited at home for them. I really feared for some.
Courtney was at the squat too, but I’d met her before, initially on my first night out with Mike Skinner (on the streets). Her and two friends got talking to me, as I sat on a bench with my life in three Sports Direct bags at my feet. I lied that I had somewhere to stay that night, but had a vague hope a friend at the other end of town might help me out. So I walked two miles to the other end of Tonbridge, with three 15-year-old girls carrying my bags. I asked them to wait while I called at my friend’s door. As I’d actually expected, he couldn’t help out. So I let the girls know I’d be safe for the night, and they returned to their respective homes. For some reason, I later got a slap from Courtney, when she found out I’d lied to her. Even though she was a third my age, she was a protector (she’d lived on the streets before).
Courtney was reassurance that it was possible to be more displaced in life than I was, as most days she’d appear beside me in McDonald’s, either bunking off college or avoiding home. Eventually, she moved into the squat for a while. At the time, she was 16. We let the local police know where she was (they knew her very well), and there was an almost audible sigh of relief from the police station. Now it would be much easier to find a serial absconder from home.
Aged 16, a person isn’t legally obliged to return to an address (certain conditions aside), especially if it’s the same address they’re running away from. The police themselves agreed, that with me in the squat, it was the safest place for Courtney.
In the four years since, we’ve remained close friends, I’ve met many of hers, and they’ve become friends too. We’re siblings, in all but blood (but there’s been blood). We’ve been through a lot ourselves, and together. Long after we left the squat, when Courtney returned first home, then to various shelters, she’d still abscond when life got the better of her, and I was always first port of call for the police (If she wasn’t with me, the network of youngsters from the squat would help us find her). I still would be, but she’s an adult now in the eyes of the law.
When a girl with a history of drug use, and a criminal record as long as her medical one (she has depression and PTSD, and she’s on the ADHD, Asperger’s and other mental health spectra) falls pregnant, interested parties and agencies are inevitable, and so it’s been for the past several months.
Come the day of the birth, I wasn’t there. I know the girl well, but there are parts of some people I never wish to see. I’m sure there were a few people who were surprised when the baby’s skin tone ruled me out of any paternal role, but I’d only remained close to my friend because the father hadn’t.
A Child Protection Order had already been placed on the unborn baby, which naturally stressed an already highly-strung mum-to-be. There was a chance the child would be taken away soon after the birth. Courtney, her mum and her grandmother were very aware of this, as three generations gathered to welcome a fourth, possibly for only a short while. Then, like a rhino quite literally charging through a hospital (bull in a china shop is too clichéd and polite), an uninvited interloper blundered in.
By all accounts (three that I’ve heard), this “friend” ate some food, asked the relatives to leave, and let the medical staff know she was the mum’s best friend and godmother to the baby. Then she went home and posted a self-congratulatory photo proclaiming her godmotherliness on Facebook, expecting I-don’t-know-what. Social awareness and responsibility are as far removed from reality as social media twists some lives.
Far from adulation, a general sense of shock pervaded, among those aware of the insensitivity of the selfish gesture. Everyone else seemed aware that Courtney only wanted to be with close family in a very tense (and possibly temporary) situation, and that anyone else could jeopardise the whole thing. She’d previously said she might need a friend, but quickly realised that none were more important than family, even if hers could only be gathered fleetingly. The gravity of the matter didn’t trump the importance of self in one person’s blind ignorance. Even in the absence of a specific instruction to respect privacy, everyone else got it. If ever the blindly bungling, misguided excuse were to read this, perhaps it might provide some spectacles with which to see the bigger prevailing picture, better late than never.
This invader hadn’t been the only one competing for attention and accolades as the day of the birth arrived, and the roles of godparents had been brought up many times, mainly by those who wanted to occupy the titles. Courtney herself had more pressing matters to attend to (having the baby and keeping it), so she’d made vague indications to a few persistent friends that they’d discuss it at a later date, perhaps when she found out if she was allowed to actually keep her own child.
So the announcement on social media of the Mr Ben godmother was wholly inappropriate and insensitive, to many people, not least of all the girl who then lay in hospital wondering if she’d even see her own daughter grow up. Now she was looking at Cleo (the baby) in someone else’s arms, while that person looked very pleased with themselves grinning out of Facebook. When it was pointed out to the would-be anti-fairy godmother that her conduct was in fact quite crass (it was as close as you could get to mental kidnap), she responded in self-defence, with yet more disregard for anyone’s feelings outside her own malfunctioning ones. There was never an apology, just prolonged self-flagellation in public.
For my part, I’d explained to my little sis that a godparent isn’t just a badge to be worn by the highest bidder, any more than a Christening should be used for personal gain. Courtney’s about as religious as me, so she gets that a Christening would be a waste of the church’s time, and that of those attending, obliged to dress up for a public display of infant torture as it has water splashed over its head. She’ll have a baby shower instead. But more importantly, choose any godparents wisely.
The godparents would be the ones Courtney needed most, for possibly a very long time, and not just in fair weather or for photo opportunities. Single parenting is difficult in any circumstances, but a mum with so many mental health issues and past problems is going to need help and support. While all those clamouring for selfish attention and entitlement crawled over Facebook, myself and a young friend of Courtney’s (a student midwife) were talking to various agencies, eventually ensuring that she kept Cleo. I helped with the phone calls and emails which eventually got mum and baby a placement in a joint dependence centre. All of this was done quietly by myself and “Charlton” (she’s named after a west London football club, but I’m from Catford), with no premature self-congratulatory posts on Facebook. The key was a letter I wrote.
As someone who’s always been in conflict with authority, Courtney doesn’t trust officialdom. It was a tough job, getting her to see that the various agencies wanted to help her, but that they had both her and Cleo’s welfare at heart. Even though I know she’s a decent person, I also know she’s prone to the odd wobble. She’s slapped me in the face and kicked me in the shins, simply because she gets frustrated. She can’t do that to many people, so she normally runs away. I just wait for her to fall apart, then pick up the pieces.
She eventually realised why everyone seemed to be against her (the courts, social services etc.): all they had to go on was what they’d seen: probation reports, a criminal record, drug use… That was all they knew, because they didn’t know the person, just the pieces of paper. A court hearing was pending Cleo’s birth, and whether Courtney kept her baby would be down to what was presented in court. So I wrote a letter of defence, a personal reference to counterbalance the case against my sister.
There was a lot in the letter (six pages of personal testament) but my closing statement was that I believed (as a friend) that Courtney would change, as soon as she had a reason. She wasn’t one who felt things should be earned, but give a homeless alcoholic a home, and he will sort the rest out with support around him. I used myself as an example of how someone’s life can be balanced, if they’re given something to live for. For me, it was a permanent home. For Courtney, it would be a baby. It was also a massive risk of a friendship, but one I knew would prevail, whatever happened.
I’ve had confirmation since, that it was this letter which helped Courtney into the mother and baby unit where she is now, when it would have been far easier at the time (this was Christmas) to simply place the baby into care. She’s halfway through that placement now, she’s proved me right and she’s vindicated my letter’s content. With Charlton and myself still helping out, the next step is to get her back home from Essex (it was the only place available then) and re-integrated with her own area (Kent), where dangers from the past could upset the balance if there’s no support. A combination of what all three of us have done means she’ll have her liberty back sooner than anyone might have thought.
Charlton and me have both been interviewed by social services and we’ve been asked to become Courtney’s family unit, for all upcoming meetings and hearings with various agencies, then for her ongoing life (and support). We’re recognised by the county council as being appropriate to the roles, and we’ve been asked to write life plans with Courtney, thereby committing ourselves to a judge.
Courtney asked us to be godparents. Auntie Steve and Uncle Charlton will help to bring Cleo up, and we’ll help our friend, as we always have, quietly and with no sense of entitlement. We’re not religious. We didn’t want for it, we didn’t need it, ask for it, or assume it. We earned it, by being ourselves.
Now they’re together, Courtney decided to get a tattoo for Cleo (on herself, not on the baby). She had a few stock quotes and poems in mind, but she thought something original would be more appropriate. So she asked a writer she knows to come up with something that had much personal sentiment besides the context of the words themselves.
The greatest love
The strongest bond
my eternal pride
With thanks to Courtney, who allowed part of her story to be told. All agency and authority references available on request for appropriate parties.
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