Risky Choices

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‘Didn’t add up. Forgot to carry a zero.’ – Carry the Zero, Built to Spill.

Last night was all muggy, breezeless in my bedroom. I kept waking up and staring into the heat. If it hadn’t been for a weird snake nightmare injecting some tension into the early hours then it would have ranked high as a bad waste of time and life. Sleep. Or a grim waking sleep – like a zombie heated paralysed old man lying there with no sign of the thin yellow curtains moving. No sounds outside either. No traffic. No vicious Owls screaming death threats into the hot air. Just the fuzz of unfamiliar warmth. Like a badly tuned old tv set.

Therapy hadn’t been great. We picked over the walk with my old friend. I told my Clinical Psychologist that it had had a huge effect on me. She told me that perhaps it was because I had realised I had an emotional connection to someone. And that now I was feeling scared I would ruin it. All the typical Borderline bullshit. Then we talked about my childhood for the millionth time. This is an easy task, on the face of it, but whenever I leave that room I find my thoughts don’t settle for a couple of days. This time I cried in there. I wasn’t expecting it. She didn’t know where to look, and she appeared sad and close to crying too. Her face turned red, she kept putting her hand up to her eyes. I apologised.

‘Ben, there is something missing between your emotional connection to the past and where you’re at now. Your friend coming over made a tangible link to a time many years ago – opened an old door. We need to go back more often and find those missing pieces, even if they hurt. You have to choose to stop wanting to die, or not.’

She said my friendship with my newly discovered old friend should be nurtured. I panicked, but then my old friend makes me really happy. She’s like an Angel without the job rules. Too good for those mentally deficient Hyenas lording it up in Heaven. I think if it had been anyone else I would never have gone through with the whole thing from the start. It’s a big risk. What happens if I ruin it? If she walks away? I was getting anxious just thinking about it. When you meet someone that great in your journey through life you kind of stand back in awe. Then worry about fucking it up.

But enough of futuristic emotional pain. I’ve had enough pain already this fine morning. A horsefly bit me on the wrist while I was watering the garden. I watched the sucker land, then felt the sharp jab of needle mouth parts. It moved too fast for me to slap a kill down, but kept at me, trying to land again. I let it, then crushed it on my arm. I looked over the body carefully. The horsefly had made a simple choice and lost.

 

Party

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Anyone else look forward to social events like they look forward to being gored by a bull? I’ve got the pain coming today. It’ll be administered at my partners friends’ house in the next village.

I’ve already been told off yesterday by my partner for not taking my tablets and for having a meltdown on Saturday; I’m a bit all over the place at the moment. So, the writing is on the wall, and the ley-lines and hexes are all intersecting on her friends home this afternoon, with its pretty garden and borrowed marquee. The rain will help to dampen the moods of my dining companions. Fuses will be short and nervous glances will shoot at me the second someone mentions politics, or mental health, or death, or…just about anything where the topic can turn serious – which is just about any topic as far as I’m concerned.

The opposing team include a right-wing lizard of a man, a drunk social worker, a tetchy support worker and her cattle farmer husband, a former head of a social services department, her stoner partner, an ‘I’m wacky’ old people’s services assessor, a registered mental health nurse – recently disciplined for punching a patient in a mental health unit, the hosts (nervous and highly strung teacher and insurance salesman), and my old friend – the only one I have left. He will provide the only sense and safety in the whole thing. I genuinely am ramping up with high anxiety right now. Those people are out to get me and I don’t have a hope in Hell. Judging on past experiences I’ll either take too many meds prior to getting there, or drink to much. I’m not popular sober, but whacked on tablets and/or booze makes the whole thing much, much worse. Anything could happen. At the very least I’ll be a huge embarrassment to my partner in front of all her friends. And they will ask her, in text messages afterwards, why she bothers with me. It’s a good question – and one I ask myself many times more than they do – but I can’t bear to think about it right now. Got to keep the anxiety on just one threat. One is enough today.

In three hours I could be walking home in the rain, covered in my own sweat and slime. Soaked and slithering away from what most other people enjoy; it’s just a party.

Surf

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Hello. Yes, I think that’s the right tone for the start of this thing. Hello. As you sit on the bus, on your sofa, on the toilet, walking in the street, bashing the steering wheel in a traffic jam home from a job you hate, whatever/wherever. Hello still stands. It might not be reciprocated – and I doubt it is – but it’s a free offer from me. Take it.

Medication taken today: Pregabalin (found a tablet down the side of the sofa – yeah, desperation), Codeine, Flupentixol, diazepam, ethyl alcohol.

Is that ok?

I doubt it. But it feels good. And, yes, I know that alcohol isn’t strictly a medication. ‘Self-medication’ they call it. Not gallons of the stuff, just a couple of cold beers while I’m typing and watching a guy spraying some noxious weedkiller on the hillside. He’s wearing a blue boiler suit. The chemicals must be a real doozy. Can’t get them on the skin or his curly hair’ll fall out and his testicles wither and shrivel up like walnuts. But no weeds, eh. It’s no wonder I haven’t seen a hedgehog for ten years.

But that’s all superfluous. The world is swinging now under my own chemical intervention. Bad synapses cut off at the pass by GABA-inducing, serotonin pumping, actions from the tiny tablets and swigs of Heineken. No weed in me, yet, hoho. I’m High. This old desk has never felt better. The little red keyboard – bought as an add-on because the laptop keyboard is shit – is soaking up the heavy finger stabs. Just a great slab of forgiving plastic meat.

This hubris in here won’t last. I’m not that high.The first rule of any real chemical user is you know this is the one great truth: things never last. For now, though, don’t begrudge a guy surfing on the warm wave of his own personal understanding of neuropharmacology. The beach is golden and inviting, and the water friendly and shark-free. It beats the sharp rocks, fins, teeth, and rusted steel of any other given day. Tomorrow I’ll know different, as always, but while the sun is out and the dopamine flowing I’ll take this ride until the offshore breeze ruins the wave sets.

 

Car Conversation

How do you go about telling someone you almost killed yourself last week? Yeah, I know, ‘Almost’. Define Almost. And, while you’re at it, get the fuck off of the internet with your self-aggrandising bullshit, Ben(jamin).

Well, as someone who’s followed through with those thoughts four [4] times with genuine focus in the past eight years I think I’m up on the subject enough to enter some kind of discourse. OK, none of this means you have any emotional involvement in what I’m writing – none of you know who I am, and fewer than that number actually give a shit anyhow – but I think it’s a topic worth getting into. Especially as times are tough considering the focus shift of my Therapy. Things are up in the air, mixed up, and my thoughts are too occupied with the past and the negative aspects of my life. The Professionals in my life think I am at increased risk. They are right.

Well. What do you say to someone when you’ve had a near miss? ‘Err, by the way, I nearly killed myself last week.’? Do you sit them down, hold their hand, and gently talk through the thing over a glass of wine and many tears? What’s the pro-forma?

In this case, I just blurted it out while driving the car. ‘By the way, I nearly killed myself last week.’ I wasn’t trying to be cruel, or really trying anything at all. It just happened.

The reaction, at first, was silence for a few seconds, then ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I didn’t want to pile that onto you.’ Which was a truth. In fact, it was the truth. The only truth. Who wants to heap that kind of emotional pile of utter shit onto anyone? I didn’t, I never have, and I still don’t. I’m not a guy who makes cryptic attention-seeking phonecalls, or sends messages of angst, or writes suicide notes. Suicide is a personal thing, all heightened emotional state, solitary, Me v the Universe. I never want to involve others. I’ve been told by Professionals that this is dangerous, because it points to me really meaning it. Goddamn right. I meant it every time.

Where does that leave us? Well, in some respects it means your opinion of me has fallen. And it possibly means the same from my partner’s perspective too. I don’t know for sure, I don’t want to ask her, or you. Too many heavy conversations like that aren’t anyone’s idea of fun.

The subject of suicide is never welcomed by anyone, like an incoming missile, or a wayward step on a cliff top. Even out here in the ether. For that, I apologise. But here we are anyhow. Words written. Cat out of the bag. As grim as it is, this is my Truth and this is the way of things right now. Some people fight Wolverines for a living. I fight self-inflicted death. And I hate myself for it.

Despite all of the above, I felt a little better once the silence returned in the car – just like I feel a little better for typing these words.. She knew the truth now, hard as it had been to say, and the World had lost one more appalling secret.

Cruel questions

The decapitated wasp head still bit and chewed at anything in front of it’s face. Meanwhile, a little further away on the windowsill, the body arched and the tiny black needle stinger jabbed and jabbed. I watched the two separate parts do this for twenty minutes, sometimes prodding and leaning right in close for a better look. Was the wasp alive or were the spasms of post-death aping the angry feelings of a yellow and black soul? As an eight year old I couldn’t work it out. I still can’t, come to think of it. I guess I could look it up right now but I think it’ll change an entire perspective I have of cruelty, death, and the religious ideology of a warped little boy. And memories can’t remake themselves, I don’t care what some bearded Nobel prize-winner tells me after being locked in a laboratory for ten years. Lab chemicals can do strange things to a mind, and so can academic isolation. As an eight year old I tested things for myself: ‘O Lord receive this wasp…..shit, is it dead yet? Send me a sign.’ Nothing.

A poll of UK Christians yesterday showed that a little less than three quarters of them believed in the resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion, and just over half of all Christians said they believed in Heaven/Hell/some form of afterlife. Is this important?

I don’t know. And I doubt you do either. There’s only one way of finding out and we’ll all get our answer to that particular sticky question in the end – heart attack, eaten by a bear, it doesn’t matter how you get there, just be assured you will eventually see the truth. Or not. One thing for certain is you’ll never be able to tell the answer to the rest of us back here scrabbling in the human filth of massacres, war, and enforced poverty. It’s hard to hear spiritual whispers when you’re choking on nerve agents or blown out of your hospital bed by a cruise missile.

Too many horrifying things in the News today. Too many to list and actively mull over with any sense of focus or clarity. Too much death and too many powerful countries circling each other waving bombs that could destroy the world many times over – wasps included. Why? The Psychiatrists tell me I’m crazy, but right now I wonder if it’s you instead. Why not? Indeed.

Today I will not torture anything or anyone, I won’t kill, and I promise I will try to stay alive. Questions are ok, but only if you are ready for the answers.

Walk through this

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Along the disused railway track, dawn sun and ghost chuffchuffing and furious imaginary steaming sounds from the engine shed at the top of the mile long incline through the woods. The view point was empty. Flowers on the ground by the edge, sheer drop, hills stretching into the distance. Down below over the other side at the base of the wall I could see a small pile of ashes in the meadow, a loved one’s final wish to remain up here forever. I know what human ashes look like – white grains, tears, too few to possibly have ever been a person. I was stressing about the weekend, not thinking of death so much, but still panicked and reached for the tablets in my rucksack for calm, still breath, wobbly walk, fuzzy logic, peace.

The sun broke clear on the towpath along the canal and back into my village in the clear air of a middle England morning, leaves beginning to break free of glistening buds in the sky above, spring, wild garlic scent, doubt, fear, self-loathing, no confidence, end it all?

Back home, music on, change into old nightshirt and sit at this desk with the birds outside hopping and feeding on the mealworms I’ve given them, waiting for the afternoon and the sunlight through the windows in front of me. There is no focus, nothing but the grim sense of doom and a fight against the jumbled thoughts collapsing into one another, whirlpool, oil slick.

The screaming brakes of a truck splits the music and howls into the distance down the hill and into the junction by the tiny collection of shops, heading out out out and away from the gravity of living up high and in danger. There is a whisper in here, in the dark corners, a mocking voice starts up and tells me I am worthless. Strung out, heart pounding, clueless and directionless, no response from me except to nod my head and accept all the confusion. Dead pan. Waiting for something.

The Summer job

‘God….when we’re leaving work I keep looking at her out of the corner of my eye sitting there next to me as I’m driving. I get a hard on.’

‘Yeah? Aren’t you a bit old for her, Vic?’ I replied.

‘I don’t care.’ He paused for a few seconds, playing an image in his mind. ‘You know, sometimes I think about raping her.’

‘What?!’

‘I think about just pulling the car over somewhere quiet and raping her.’

And so that conversation ended. We were sitting in a work canteen in the hot summer of 1992. I was 18 and this was a shitty summer job at a bottle packing plant. It paid £1.09 an hour. I had to pack thirty thousand coke bottles into crates every day. Me and my work partner held the factory record – one hundred and fifteen thousand bottles packed between us in an eight hour shift. We weren’t proud. It was back breaking dirty work, but when you finished each afternoon you were too tired to go spend the money, so things mounted up until the weekends. Then I’d get wasted for two days.

The plant employed around a hundred men and women. It was the last stop before unemployment made sense in all ways. The employees were either elderly, infirm, or had some form of learning difficulties that were, as yet, undiagnosed. Then there were the drifters and the chancers – too slack to get a proper job, or fired from everything else up the ladder so they eventually slid back down into this cesspool. Nobody laughed, talking was banned, and the radio played over the sound of clinking glass at a volume where you could never tell what was on.

Vic was about late fifties. He had a big belly and smelled like cabbages. The girl he had been talking about was my age, pretty, and unaware of Vic’s fantasies. This had been a tough conversation to be a part of. Afterwards I felt dirty, complicit in a crime. I went to the girl and told her to watch herself with Vic when he gave her a lift. She laughed, but I noticed her at the bus stop after work that day. She took the bus home every day after that.

Vic never managed to get his hard on near her. I was sure he’d die soon of a heart attack anyhow. It was the kind of karmic justice I thought only right in his case. Painful death for Vic, and the people who had filled the toilet walls with at least a thousand wiped bogeys, bits of shit and, a few times, long dribbles of sperm. There was no hope in that place. Everybody had given up theirs a long time ago. It was the way of things in an ex-mining town. Jobs were hard to come by and taking one as low paid as this meant swallowing some pride for many. And, if you aren’t careful, before you know it you’ve given up. I could walk away back into middle class safety and education, the others were doomed to wiping shit on the walls and talking about rape as if it were the same as playing football after work. There was no hope for the people who depended on that place to pay bills and put food on tables. Where was Orwell’s noble working class? Sure as shit wasn’t in there. These people were a step away from ripping women to shreds and eating the remains. Every morning I’d clock in and pray that I wouldn’t witness something worse than the day before. They were three long months.

I left at the end of the summer and went back to college sorer, slightly richer, but feeling sick to the stomach that I’d maybe seen a slice of the real world for the first time. And if that was the case then I didn’t fit into it. What had we come to as a society when we paid peanuts to people and put them into an unwinnable situation where they felt so out of kilter? Was every work place like this? Was my future heading in the direction of jacking off onto toilet walls? I was confused, but at least I had some spare cash. Two weeks after finishing my summer job I had spent every penny of the money I’d saved from working there on drugs and booze; a pathetic middle class boy. Some people would say that was a waste, but not me. I never had to go back to the factory and I used those two weeks to think of everything I’d learned about the real world. Those thoughts became, in time, a self fulfilling prophecy, a mantra of sorts. ‘No hope for any of us.’

 

The Empath

The carer. Bought in at a cost to take out a young disabled girl once a week for a couple of hours. Middle-aged. Grey hair in a bob cut. Sturdy shoes, pastel clothes, ambiguous fashion, neither outdoorsy or office wear. Kind of functional. As she is.

The young girl is autistic. Pretty high up there on the spectrum – not like the fashion of nowadays, ‘We’re all on the autistic spectrum.’ She is doubly incontinent and can only speak short, clipped sentences which don’t really describe anything of use. She wears diapers full time. Avoids eye contact. Goes to a specialist school.

The carer is Scottish. She hates having to work for people she thinks are below her. The young people on her caseload ‘have too much money,’ it’s ‘an easy life for them…..all latest mobile phones, clothes, nice bedsits.’ The young girl isn’t deaf but the carer shouts childish pseudo-babble at her, then tips others a wink as if to say, ‘Aren’t I cleverer than her…. What a poor stupid vegetable.’ She loathes the fact that the death of her husband several years ago has forced her into the job market, and her skills and experience precluded her from anything she perceives as worthy. No more trips to Dubai, or chances to look down her nose at the ‘foreigners’. Washboard face, scrubbed with carbolic soap at night by hands still wearing a wedding ring and bracelet he bought her in Singapore when the going was good. Too many memories, zipping along in the mirror in the twilight. She scrubs the filth of the needy away and sighs. ‘What a world.’

Outside, in her tiny car, she wheels away from the housing unit tapping lightly on the steering wheel and looking forward to a time when somebody, anybody, takes her away from the scum of the earth. Voting ‘out’ a requirement for any suitor. No tolerance. Got to hate like she does. Got to like Trump. The little engine revs and she drives off down the valley to the small house she keeps as a shrine to the old days. NO crying in there, no sadness, just bitter rabid energy permeating the stone walls and the guttering as it gurgles down the winter rain. Alone. Fed with jealousy and teetotal chastity, greying daily, ruddy face glowing under a bitter stone cold sun in the autumn of her directionless life.

There are times when I feel sorry for her, but not many. There’s a horror in somebody who turns on the vulnerable when their own life got tough. Say what you like about me, but no matter how hard it ever got I never voted Tory/Trump/hatred of the poor and the ethnically diverse.

But what does it matter? There is always karmic retribution kicking about there in the ether like a big saggy balloon, ready to swamp the unwary. I’ll leave it to those righteous cosmic laws to take the spite away from people like her – the really disgusting human beings out there. I’m off to make fairy cakes with the young girl from above. We’ll laugh as we’re doing it, and we’ll enjoy every moment; both of us experiencing the simple joy of being with somebody we know has an empathy for us. After all, I know what it’s like to be laughed at by idiots, marginalised, dependent on someone else – usually paid – to look after you when times are bad.

‘Why not have empathy for the carer?’ I don’t know. Should I have? Am I wrong? Nah. I’m ok with things the way they are here. Right is right, and I can smell evil a mile away, even when it’s dressed as as middle-aged Scottish woman in pastels.

I guess, deep down, there is hope for me.

What happened?

‘You used to be alright. What happened?’

Disbelief, generally, from every friend – well, most of them: the ones who didn’t know me very well. From High School student, up into A levels, then University and onwards to a job, house, car, marriage, dropping friends along the way and never making up the numbers with new ones.The people who thought they knew me fell off the ledge and never got replaced. All I became was a load of half-hearted memories of drug-fuelled nights and days of summer haze and forgotten words. ‘He was ok back then. I heard he had a breakdown or some shit. Never liked him a lot anyway.’

Words that I’m sure were said a few times, with meaning, and with some sense behind them apart from the breakdown bit. I don’t think you can call four decent suicide attempts in a year a classical breakdown. It was more a time of pronounced emotional fervour; symptomatic heightening from my diagnoses (Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder). Things had ramped up to another level, that was all. I survived, obviously. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, ho ho.

I was never ‘alright’even from the early days. Not that anyone knew except, perhaps, my Mother and the people I hurt in fits of violence. Back at Primary School I’d wait in the playground for one of the older kids to start on a smaller kid then I’d leap in and start fighting, getting them to hit me as hard as they could so the rage could rise in all it’s glory. That’s when I started getting into trouble: I used to win, sometimes after knocking out adult teeth in child heads. The pain kept me sane. By 12 I’d learned to control all of the rage. I was internalising it, cutting myself, punching myself. Easy to do, no Police officers or bad school reports. People never see what you’re up to in the privacy of your bedroom, in the dark, alone. And I’d become a great actor in daytime, when I was called on to be alright, normal, to fit in. Inside I’d be in agony.

There were the moving pictures I’d see sometimes, ghosts if you like. There was music, strong feelings that came and went and crazy ideas which couldn’t ever be realised if I wanted to remain out of jail. Disfunction, sexual mania, drug-induced relief , and deepening confusion. And still people couldn’t see. I duped them all. I’d should have gotten some kind of macabre Oscar – the ‘Mentally Ill Best Supporting Actor’ in the story of my life. Nailed on winner.

Now, outside, it’s about to rain heavy. I’ll end this one here. Not much point in going through the past in any serious detail just yet. And I haven’t got a hand to hold today anyhow to help me through. Funny how outwardly tough people are really just broken and frightened inside. It’s a cliche, I know, but it runs true in my experience. Little broken children, that’s all we are despite the rage and the sad confusion.

My CPN is due tomorrow, then a rare home visit the next day by my Psychologist. They are determined to help me get well – to be alright. But who cares, eh? Not my old friends, and not, I suspect, you either.

 

Whale Death

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What can you do when something, or someone, helpless is in front of you in pain? What are you supposed to do, and what is righteous? I mean, when the horrors of a situation are right before you is there some innate procedure that kicks in? Can anything be salvaged? Is there really something good in the bad?

I’m asking because a hundred Pilot Whales are stranded on some goddamn place called Farewell Spit in New Zealand. It was all over the tv this morning. I watched it at 4.30am, curled up in disgust and terror on my sofa, freshly woken half an hour earlier from a nightmare where the old Preacher from Poltergeist Two was chasing me around my house asking me to pray for my salvation.

The Pilot Whales lay there on the golden shore like huge black slugs in a giant sandbox. But around them, some in lifejackets and hi-viz vests, gathered together to share the intense Natural grief of the impending death of a hundred large wild animals, milled the local population. Some covered the whales in wet bed sheets, others poured water over their skin. Most stood looking from body to body, wondering, like me, what made these things happen. Some knelt lovingly next to the dying whales and patted and caressed them, talking to them and oozing anthropomorphic love. In my mind I heard a panpipe. The grief was all being sucked up by the humans. All the words and the knowing grim smiles…. The whales, as far as I know, don’t speak English, and I’m sure they don’t know why they are dying any more than I do. A few sandy tubs of water, baptising them as ‘touched by human kindness’, so worthy of allowing close contact, were pointless but they continued anyhow. The least the whales could do under the circumstances was to allow a sobbing middle-aged human the benefit of watching it pass away while being patted like a large, oilskinned cat. Get with the pro-social programme, you fucking ungrateful Cetacean.

Some people dug channels, waiting for the next tide, but the whales were already dying by then. Nobody could really help – which brings me back to the beginning: What? Why? How? Is doing something better than doing nothing and leaving these terrified creatures alone in their final moments together? Do Pilot Whales find humans comforting?

No. No, they don’t.

Those Pilot Whales will all die; causes unknown. But a lot of people will leave that beach feeling just that little bit better about their own shit because they got to watch a heart stop in the middle of several tons of marine flesh that should really be in water. There was a smugness that pervaded that beach which I found horrific.

Cuddle a whale, cuddle something, try to safely absorb some grief. It’s all safe unless, like me, you’re all washed up.