In All The Familiar Places

Once again it’s the national self-obsession hour. I’m almost at the end of my weekly CBT sessions. I’m going to miss my therapist. I understand now why rich Americans have a therapist on retainer. It seems like an essential lifestyle accessory. There’ll be a glaring hole in my life when it’s gone. Next week we’ll be focusing on relapse prevention. Soon after that I’ll have to fend for myself, because I’m not out of this wood yet, no way.

I have been getting trains. Every time I get on a train, I make a little more progress. Salford Crescent to Central, Crescent to Deansgate, Crescent to Oxford Road. Next stop Piccadilly, with the ultimate goal of inter-city travel. It’s getting gradually less scary. It still freaks me out though. I’ve got tingling unsteady limbs for whole moments after disembarking. Still, I get hit up for directions the whole time, so I can’t look that bad. It’s ironic that I know Manchester a lot better than my therapist does. If you see me, point me away from the traffic. I can direct you around the city but I can’t walk around it with you.

When the doom came upon me for the first time, in Hyde Park, the therapy was really good but only on a behavioural level. Which worked for a few years until, suddenly, it didn’t. I’ve now learned that there has to be a cognitive change, which I’m now undergoing. This is why I hate, so much, complementary and alternative therapies in mental health provision. If you react with irrational fear to normal situations then it is rationality and reason that will be your guide on the long road back to health.

I have learned a great deal from the CBT and I will try to apply it to other things in my life. Recently I’ve been having the occasional bout of intense sadness. The first one came shortly after I finished the novel. It lasted for three days and then it went, like a shadow crossing over the sun. No specific reason, and it’s strange, because I don’t suffer from depression, or even unhappiness. My amazing friend Nina calls it post-book depression. This seems to fit although I’m not sure about the analogy of writing with childbirth. Writing is much more fun.

Anyway. Just recently there have been a couple more of these low hours. A period of a few hours where I feel completely lost, alone, unloved, fragile, broken, vulnerable, afraid… fucked up all the way down the line. It’s almost like a chemical balance, perhaps with a couple of things underlying it. Possibly I’ve been suffering from loneliness without realising it or dealing with it on a conscious level. I now think I understand how Elizabeth Wurtzel felt in Prozac Nation. Another irony, because I’m generally positive in my demeanour. People say arrogant and self-assured. If they only knew. I just need to concentrate on recovery. And then?

Well I would love to get back to work. I’m wary about the prejudice that people have about the mentally ill. It’s not rampant but it is there. Just think how many times you see the word ‘nutter’ used as an insult. Everyone who disagrees is crazy. Not that I give a shit, I am not a sensitive man, but it’s ironic that the people who question your sanity, suggest you’ve forgotten your medication, that you need to see a psychologist etc tend to view themselves with an unblinking moral superiority, and would jump down the throat of anyone who criticised, say, a person’s religion. Proof once again that there is a hierarchy of victimhood.

I have been talking in vague, expansive terms about finding a relationship but there’s no way I’m going to start dating again while I’ve got this phobic monkey on my back. Shame, because that would be fucking good material for this blog. Still, it’s going to have to wait until the all clear. And even then I’ll be walking in with loads of baggage. It doesn’t seem fair on the other person. And I’m a romantic at heart and it seems dull and stupid to look for love just to find stability. So the best option is probably just to relax and carry on and see what chance will bring.

I’ve written before that sheer grinding anger can get you through the dark times almost as well as love, friendship and support. Every time I feel low, I think: I will fucking endure and survive this. I will survive!… Also, though, these past months have helped me rediscover the joys of friendship. I’m naturally a solitary kid but it’s fantastic to have people who call you up when you don’t expect it, people with whom you can sit and have a pint and a bottle of red and a chat. I’ve experienced this all my life, on and off, but I don’t think I appreciated it until now.

I don’t feel I’ve unduly suffered, this past eleven months have been enjoyable and interesting in many ways. We all have to shoulder the cross at some point. I know pain is relative – to quote Nicola Six, ‘the rich baby cries as lustily as the poor’ – but come on now, there’s people in the world without clean drinking water. Self-examination is a dead end. Keep a sense of perspective, because like I always say, it’s perspective that separates us from the animals.

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5 Responses to “In All The Familiar Places”

  1. Jeremy Stangroom Says:

    Glad to hear you’ve been making progress, Max.

    “We all have to shoulder the cross at some point.”

    Yeah. I tend to have ‘crises’ (relatively speaking, but then all this stuff is relative) once every ten years. There’s a thing I’ve written on my web site (called ‘I’m an internet hypochondriac’) that describes my last ‘episode’. Although its style is humorous, it’s substantively accurate even in the detail (which will probably seem impossible if you read it!).

    (Which reminds me one day I’ll have to write down the story of a friend of mine whose anxiety manifested itself in an inability to swallow food when on a first date. Although tragic – because true – it was also extremely funny (I feel slightly guilty for saying so, but there you go!).

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    You should write that story, there is a real funny side to anxiety disorders.

  3. Rachel Fox Says:

    Haven’t called in for ages…had to say at least one thing here though…

    I met my complete and total soul mate lovely person when I was at my lowest mental point (and believe me that was pretty low!). I’m still not sure why he didn’t run for the hills but he didn’t and he’s still here 12 years later. So basically don’t ever close yourself off to things (especially huge life-changing things like love) because of this kind of problem/illness (everyone has ‘baggage’ of some kind!). If it comes embrace it…(a) it might not come back and (b) I hate to tell you but there might never be an ‘all clear’ (there might be..but don’t count on it…it’s not like physical illness in that sense, certainly not in my experience). What will there be instead…a lot of change, a new way of seeing, lots of new understanding, heightened sensitivity (you’re not kidding!)..it all helps with writing…apart from that it’s just hard work! And a real bastard.

    Good luck…and well done on all the travelling bravery. It really is bravery – people who haven’t felt it have no idea!
    x

  4. maxdunbar Says:

    Thanks Rach, you’re right, I am just going to relax and see what happens.

  5. myshittytwenties Says:

    “I’m not sure about the analogy of writing with childbirth. Writing is much more fun.”

    I don’t know about the fun part, but Caroline Smailes says getting a novel published is more agonising than giving birth:
    http://myshittytwenties.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/caroline-smailes-interview/

    Exactly three years ago today, I think I would have begged to differ.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better.

    Emily.

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