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Phase

May 2019. I’m in the midst of the most frightening, debilitating anxiety attack. Indeed, it could be interpreted as an existential panic attack, in that I can’t tell if everything I’m seeing and doing is real or imaginary. I feel as if I’m watching myself from outside my body. I’m only 50% sure that this isn’t a ‘near death experience’. I’m watching this whole fucked up mess from somewhere else, yet I can feel myself in my body at the same time. I’m stuck in a perpetual loop of déjà vu. A lethal cocktail of blind terror and relentless confusion courses through my system. Nothing makes sense.

I phone my doctor’s surgery and when the GP calls me back three hours later, I can’t be at all certain that the conversation is genuinely happening or if I’m dreaming the whole thing. This is, without question, the very definition of a living nightmare. Everything is up, down, left, right and backwards and forwards all at the same time. Even a desperate attempt to seek solace from the ridiculous cliché of pinching myself does absolutely nothing to alter my lack of perception.

Am I going insane? Is this what it feels like?

I call the NHS 111 service and they’re not much help, either. After an attempt at conversation rapidly deteriorates and results in further discomfort on my part, the call handler freaks me out by asking if I’m bleeding or if the skin on my chest is warmer than usual. Bad move.

“Mate, I’m on the verge of a full-blown meltdown, so body temperature is the least of my fucking concerns. Can you help me or not?”

“Is it a life-threatening injury?”

“I can’t tell if I’m alive or dead, so what do you think?”

“Could you just hang on while I speak to my …”

I hang up, head outside, light an umpteenth cigarette and pace frantically up and down the garden patio.

This has to be real.

How can I be sure?

Catching my reflection in the patio window, I appear to be a figment of my own warped imagination, so I dart back inside the house, grab a can of Guinness left over from Christmas out the fridge and down it in about thirty seconds flat – as if my life depended on it. But instead of instant calm, I feel sick to my stomach. I daren’t drink any more alcohol because as I’ve discovered on multiple occasions (to my cost), it solves precisely nothing. Bad move number three hundred and forty-seven.

I’m trapped in my own mind with no way out. I convince myself that death is the only solution. I yank open the cutlery drawer, revealing all manner of sharp, deadly instruments. Any of these will do. But I consider the ramifications of suicide and how it would tear my family to pieces and I sink to the floor a defeated mess of ugly, wretched sobbing. I curl myself into a ball and tears flood my eyes as I surrender to the horrors of my haunted soul.

I am gone.

Please let me die.

This isn’t a life. Please take me away from this world. Just one painless heart attack or a seizure – anything. Take me away from this perpetual suffering.

Forever.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Bizarrely, that one line from the lyrics of Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’ is all I can manage to say to myself over and over and over.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Drifting into a trance-like state, I start to relive a particularly vivid and recurrent bad dream. Against a blackened sky and over scorched earth, I’m riding a rollercoaster with my hands nailed to the metal handrails. The trail of cars screeches around every corner at a hundred miles an hour and dips into the deepest, darkest oblivion. Blood streams over the handrails as the nails drill into my palms. I lurch and buckle from the jolts and weaves of every sharp curve. A cackling demon sits beside me, its stark red eyes piercing my skull.

I just slip away and now I am gone.

Everyone I’ve ever loved and lost is sat all around me on the rollercoaster, laughing and jeering in delight at my horrific misfortune. Payback time.

You knew this day would come.

You useless cunt.

Go on, kill yourself.

See if anyone cares.

ALL YOUR FRIENDS HATE YOU.

EVERYONE HATES YOU.

NO-ONE’S gonna miss a drunk LIKE YOU.

DO US ALL A FAVOUR.

Kill kill KILL.

STOP. STOP. STOP.

The voices fade away. With both hands covering my eyes, I slowly, carefully peak through my trembling fingers. A figure begins to form, and I realise my mother is standing in front of me with tears streaming down her face. I quickly get to my feet and embrace her and she leans into my chest as we hold one another. I start to cry again, partly from relief but mostly from shame. Days later, I discover she’d been in the house the whole time I was trapped in my dissociative meltdown. I hadn’t noticed Mum or anything else as I struggled and raged against the relentless tide of mental turmoil.

I quickly head upstairs, neck two Diazepam and get into bed. The valium, combined with sheer exhaustion and the alcohol from earlier, has me sliding painlessly into a soothing sleep within seconds.

I just slip away and now I am … gone.

Breathe

Christmas and New Year is always a difficult time of year for my family. In late December 2010, my Dad passed away and, sadly, I live with a number of regrets where my father is concerned.

As the atypical moody teenager, I treated my father with contempt. Dad loved me, but had his own way of showing it – something I’ve only come to realise recently. He was not the easiest person to be around (much like yours truly). He was often irritable (a family trait my eldest brother has persisted with to this day), irrational (my own particular speciality when under duress) and often hilariously and disproportionately quick to anger over the smallest, most insignificant matter (no comment). Dad was very loving and affectionate toward me when I was a child, yet I slowly destroyed his kindness throughout my adolescence and beyond.

Upon turning 13 and forever falling under the spell of James Dean, I behaved as if it was mandatory to hate my father. Years later, I tried to make it up to him in my own small way, but the damage had been done and I got the impression that Dad held a grudge against me for all the heartache I’d caused him. I can’t say I blame him for feeling hurt. He deserved better than that as he only ever wanted the best for me. The real tragedy is that Dad only started to show degrees of affection toward me again when dementia began to consume him.

Out of all the memories of my father, the one that endures the most is the day I held his hand as he lay dying in hospital. Dad had succumbed to pneumonia for the second time in his life, which was bad news, as only one of his lungs was fully functional following the first instance several years before. Due to the onset of vascular dementia, regrettably, we’d sent Dad to live in a care home as the family simply couldn’t cope any longer. He’d started going walkabout – for miles and miles with no particular purpose or destination – and on each occasion, we’d had to call the police to help track him down. My Mum was completely devastated that her childhood sweetheart was now reduced to a confused, rambling shell of his former self.

When Dad caught a nasty cold in the care home, we’d insisted that the staff sent for a doctor immediately, due to the earlier and nearly fatal episode of pneumonia (combined with septicaemia) that had led to his ongoing lung issues. Predictably, the carers ignored our advice and within a few hours, Dad was rushed to hospital suffering from chronic chest pains. The family arrived soon after.

I vividly recall sitting by Dad’s hospital bed and, for the first time in decades, holding his hand. His beautiful, piercing blue eyes were heavily bloodshot and, unable to speak (due to the pain in his chest), desperately thirsty and just plain scared, Dad gripped my hand so tightly that I can still recollect the feeling to this day. It didn’t hurt – or if it did, then I didn’t care – and I believe he wanted me to fix him somehow, telling me in the only way that he could. He’d done everything he ever could for me all my life and yet, in those final, crucial hours, I couldn’t do anything to save him. That’s what hurts the most – that I let my father down in his most desperate moment of need. Though, just perhaps, as he lay on (effectively) his deathbed, he was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t feel so guilty? That he realised there was no hope? I wish I knew the answer. That day on the ward, the rest of the immediate family were there, too. But in those precious moments between Dad and myself, it was as if we were the only two people in the world. Everything else was just static.

The only other thing I remember about that day is when, just as the family were leaving, a senior consultant approached to discuss the best course of treatment for my father. Sat in a family room, we listened as the consultant gently emphasised the difficultly with my father’s lungs and how any further intake of antibiotics could only be 15-20% effective and that, in the long run, may do more harm than good. We had to decide whether or not to continue with another course of treatment or, simply and more humanely, to let Dad go. Despite the practicality, I’m sure you can imagine the difficulty with making such a near-impossible decision. However, and I don’t know where this came from, as soon as the consultant finished talking, I spoke up:

“No, let him go. He should be at rest and I don’t want him to suffer any more than he already has.”

To my relief, the rest of the family agreed, but that doesn’t stop me wondering what would have happened if I’d made a different choice. Perhaps, in those moments on the ward and in his own way, that was what Dad was trying to tell me as he squeezed my hand? With the decision made, all the consultant could do now was to make Dad more comfortable as we waited for the inevitable. Returning home, no-one said a word for the hour-long journey.

A couple of days later, I awoke at exactly 4am and made my way downstairs to make a cup of tea. My mother soon followed and the moment she walked into the kitchen, I knew from the tears in her eyes that Dad had gone. She told me that the hospital had phoned and informed her that my father had passed away peacefully at 4am. These days, I just tell myself it’s a coincidence.

Dad’s funeral was every bit as difficult as I’d anticipated. I lost count of how many well-meaning relatives asked me if I was OK when I plainly wasn’t and I’d had to bite my tongue to stop myself from telling them exactly where to go. Both Mum and I sobbed uncontrollably throughout the service and to this day, I cannot bring myself to attend another funeral. As I’ve mentioned in another post, I couldn’t face going to Steve’s and, at the time, I hoped somehow he’d understand.

Over the years, I’ve often reflected on the relationship between my father and myself. I honestly wish I’d done things differently. But at least I tried to offer Dad some comfort in those desperate moments at the hospital. My Mum says he wouldn’t want me to keep torturing myself. I tell other people that regret is a useless emotion and it solves nothing but, looking back, there’s only one thing I’d change.

Everything.

My Favourite Year

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s been both the best and worst of years for me. The best, in that I’ve gone a whole 12 months without setting foot in a pub or imbibing a drop of alcohol. The worst in that I’ve spent more time on my own and I’ve missed the camaraderie between good friends. It’s taken me a while, but now I recognise the friends that matter and those that don’t. Next year, I intend to spend more time in the company of genuine friends and to continue avoiding insincere fuckers like an aged relative at Christmas.

Let me expand on that point.

2018 finds me at peace with myself and who I am. I no longer feel the need to prove anything to anyone (if I ever did in the first place). I’ve got used to not living vicariously and copying the behaviour or adopting the personality of someone else e.g. Liam Gallagher or John Lennon. I’ve grown accustomed to spending time alone and have accepted, equally, that it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to be alone. As much as I hate to admit it, I do like to be around people sometimes. Most folk are all right … in small measures. 2018 has been the year that I’m content with being myself and people can take me as I am or not at all. But I’ve realised my trust in certain people in recent years has been completely misguided and I’ve been taken for a fool.

Never again.

I will no loner allow myself to be picked up by others when they feel like it and then dropped at whim. Certain people I thought of a genuine, caring friends have proved to be anything but. Those people are long gone and nowadays, I can count on one hand those who I consider to be trustworthy and highly valued chums (both near and far).

I’m happy being single for the first time in years – another bonus of my newfound ‘self-awareness’, if you can call it that. I’m too selfish and make for a truly terrible boyfriend or husband. Yeah, that’s right. I was married once. Shocker, eh? Another story for another time, perhaps.

I’m afraid relationships are just too much bother. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the company of women very much. I find the fairer sex completely fascinating and I have been in love on several occasions (within the confines of a relationship) over the years. But in every single instance, it has led to an unmitigated disaster of some kind on my part. I lost faith in love and romance some time ago.

This year, I survived reviews into both of my sickness benefits by the DWP and came out the other side relatively unscathed. I’ve learned to live with illness (diabetes and fibromyalgia, amongst others) and to count my blessings. Some days are very difficult to cope with, but I know it could have been so much worse. I live in a beautiful house with all mod cons (including a brand spanking new turntable system) and want for nothing. My mood swings are diminishing and I’m optimistic for 2019, where I intend to apply myself to photography and other creative pursuits.

This year, and despite vowing never to do so, I started a Twitter account and I’ve encountered some lovely people, several of whom have really been there for me in troubled times. I hope to meet up with one or two of them in person at some point next year. My Facebook account looks likely to remain inactive and, save for using the Messenger service, I doubt I’ll be returning to it anytime soon. One less distraction has made life considerably easier and I strongly recommend anyone to give FB a rest for a while, if not permanently (following the Cambridge Analytica controversy).

Have I learned anything else?

I think I’ve learned to take the rough with the smooth and to live in the moment. Not every day is going to a good one, but that’s OK. When I’m feeling down, I try to think back to three/four years ago, when I was so terribly unwell. I’m in the here and now and have plenty to be grateful for.

So, here’s to another twelve months of life’s ups and downs, highs and lows, trials and tribulations.

I really wouldn’t have it any other way.