Holding on to breath

It’s a strange place, inside my soul right now.

Every recently day I’ve had moments – hours – where I’ve been so blue I’m black. Mostly, I try to sleep. Sometimes, I do things that are a clear danger sign. But I’ve people visiting from today until next week, so I’m safe now.

There’s nothing new in that. I’ve made attempts before, landed in hospital before. This time there’s a brutal grinding quality to it – I think born from exhaustion, the way this wears to you down after so many years. I’m just tired of it now. So this is far from new; it’s old, and worn; begging to be broken.

But there’s something else, this time.

I broke through it before. I know I broke through it. I remember how it’s shaped, I remember the words I used to describe it and while I knew they were imperfect they were also the best words I had to contain it.

I spoke with one of the ordained Buddhists at the centre a few weeks ago. I told her that in all my depression and grief I was so scared because I was falling apart and my life was falling apart and then… then I realised it was always, forever falling apart; there’s nothing to hold on to; all the suffering comes from trying to put together the pieces of a perfect life, in ignorance thinking that life is something you could ever grasp. That we could ever hold on to breath.

I told her I realised I was standing firm on ever-changing chaos. Everyone is. And there was joy in the peace of it, the realisation of it.

And now in this black and crushing space I still have all those words but they’re broken containers, most of the meaning spilled out and sunk to the earth.

It’s a strange place inside my soul right now. Like being kicked out of the garden.


Although it is bright, there are no objects of illumination

The Discourse Record of Chan Master Hongzhi

It came after the psychedelics. Buddhism prepared the soil and nurtured it afterwards, but the revelation came from psychedelics.

Psychedelics provide something of an afterglow effect for 4-6 weeks after the dose, but this breakthrough rolled on long after that, and if anything it grew deeper, more textured, richer. I guess I just have deep wounds, still prone to opening up and swallowing me.

I can’t afford any more shrooms right now. Anyway, I can’t take any while I’m this deep black, and I’d prefer to have someone with me when I do… all these things mean it’s a tricky solution for me and not something I can reach for immediately.

So I’m caught in this strange dark space, remembering only vaguely the shape of something so much greater, so open, something as invisible and bright as light in a void. Often – when I’m at my deepest – it all seems like a lie I’m telling myself to comfort my blistering sense of failure and shame, regret and loss. Why would I want to return to a lie? My life is, materially, a fucking mess; and it’s getting worse. Have you any idea how strong that siren song is that draws me to jagged rocks? I could finally leave behind all this failure and shame, regret and loss. My life is, materially, a fucking mess; and it’s getting worse.

I don’t want to swim forever – I don’t want to fight the tide

I don’t want to swim the ocean – when it’s cold I’d like to die

Moby

Friends tell me that it won’t always be this way, that things will get better. They don’t get it; this isn’t a fight between pessimism and optimism, but a fight between reality and fantasy. The only winning move is acceptance.

Acceptance is a hard move. But ultimately it’s the only one open to us, other than quitting the game. And I know this. I have the shape of it in my mind but it’s far away, and murky, and unbelievable. From here it looks not just hard but impossible, and the rocks are so much nearer, so solid, so simple. The sirens are singing, and all I have to fight against them is love, and the shape of something forgotten.


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And this snow will cleanse the sky

Snow’s falling.


It’s strange, having your feet planted so firmly on the ground, then looking around to find the earth you stand on isn’t what you remember it to be. And I feel strange, unlike I’ve ever felt before. Both more solid and lighter than I can ever remember being.

I think

I think

I think we build up ideas of who we are and who we want to be, and it’s only a dream but we confuse it with the real. We build up a personality, a character, an ego out of our ideas about we are and who we want others to think we are. We form opinions and beliefs and ambitions, and clinging to the coat tails of these come regret, pride, hope. And this ego is only a dream but it’s a dream that explains away our world and our life; a storyline we cling to to make sense of the chaos of it all.

I think that when that self is threatened we feel pain, and we cling to it like a branch in a flood; and as it begins to break apart we grasp and lash and howl, believing we are in danger, believing we are disintegrating. But it’s only our selves, only our ego. It was only ever a dream; and in the dawn it’s less substantial than ash on the wind.

I wanted this life to be so different. It was never meant to be like this, it was meant to be PhD and research science and living in London with all my mates, it was meant to be material sucess because that’s what everyone else I  know from uni has got, in their £40k+ careers and winter breaks to Dubai and honeymoons in Thailand. I was meant to be one of those gays whos fallen in love with Iceland and goes every year, with a boyfriend and a dog and a pub quiz and maybe an ocassional well managed chemsex habit on every third weekend of the month.

Not this. Not late 30s and living in my mum and dad’s attic, no career, a mess of a CV, no savings and over £10,000 gambling debts from a brutal bipolar episode which nearly killed me. Twice. Not living so far from my friends, lonely, working as a temp and getting minimum wage. My trainers are scratty and need replacing and I only have one pair of jeans – I can only afford one pair of jeans! I’m 37 FFS.

Last year I was howling. I was fucking howling as everything I’d worked for and tried for, all my hopes and everything I pinned any sense of pride or confidence or achievement to, it all crumbled around me and inside me and screaming I grasped for it, tears stinging my eyes as I clutched my face every morning, weeping, weeping in grief and shame and guilt at the ruin that I was becoming, this landscape all ash and grease, and hate.

I grasped and lashed and howled, believing my soul was in danger, believing my life was disintegrating. But it was only my ego, it was only ever a dream; only ash on the wind.

Snow’s falling, in the cold freshwater light of dawn.


I’m thinking of moving; I’d rather live in Manchester or London. I’ve been in Sheffield three years now – three years! Three years life on hold, three years psychiatric convalesece, three years not moving, just in limbo! Time to move on. Get on with life.

But it’s strange, having my feet planted so firmly on the ground, to look around and find the earth I stand on isn’t what I remember it to be.

I’m thinking of moving, because I’d rather live in Manchester or London. But I caught my breath the other day when I realised there’s nothing much between living here and living there.

I’ve got amazing friends who have seen me through so much and put up with so much, a family I love more than I can ever hope to say, and almost all the people I’ve ever loved are still living. I’m late 30s and living in my mum and dad’s attic, no career, a mess of a CV, no savings and over £10,000 gambling debts. And I think I’m one of the most contented people on this sad old earth.

Wherever I live, I’ll be standing on this earth with this life. And that’s fine. It has to be fine, because whatever will be will be, and the world doesn’t care for my desires; the world goes its own way.

I’ve had three major psychiatric incidents from my haywire brain and it’s nearly killed me, my god the last one sunk into a sickness deep in my soul and it so nearly killed me.

But it didn’t.

It only burned away all the illusions I held about who I am and what life is, what makes us who we are and what makes life worth living.

Snow’s falling.

The only thing real is this, see? Not tomorrow and not yesterday, not the career and not the retirement plan, not the holiday or the qualifications or the pride, or the guilt. Only this, not the regret, not the aspiration, not their opinions or our fears. We only have here, now, this; this breath, this heartbeat, this moment. And even then, the instant we have it, it’s gone. Because the world doesn’t belong to us; we’re only moments.

I wish

I wish I could explain this better.


Snow’s falling.

Cold light of dawn.

 

Better

So I’m better.

Somehow solid again, more real. Somehow my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I don’t know how I got here. There was and is meditation, and psychedelics, but they all came as I was settling down anyway. Maybe they’ve kept me here, where better is. Maybe I would be fine without them.

I’m better.

I’m better and I look back on 2017, and it’s white noise, or a picture I can’t quite focus. A person I can’t quite remember being, tho I remember the things he thought and the things he did.

I’m better, and for the very first time I feel like I’m not just better, but wiser. More sure footed. I don’t know how I got here. Maybe it’s the meditation, maybe it’s the psychedelics.

I have regrets, you know? All these regrets, for how my life has turned out and the endless list of mistakes I’ve made. Frustration at not being where I’d hoped, the usual self recrimination and grief. Anger a how my mental health has disrupted and distorted my life, left me living far from friends and the city I loved and used to call home.

But so what? That’s life, and life is sad sometimes. That’s OK.

I have so many friends, and a loving family, and I’m healthy enough that I can go walk in the world, and feel the cold air on my skin, and breathe. And in that moment, there’s peace.

None of these things will last, and we have only a few heartbeats to call our own in this world. Life is sad sometimes, because life is loss. That’s OK. In this moment, there’s peace.

I’ve tried to kill myself. 3 times. I must have hurt so much, I must have been so lost and so afraid and felt so alone. Maybe I’ll try again, if I ever again get that lost and afraid and alone. I hope not. No one should ever feel that bad. I can’t imagine. I literally can’t imagine how it must feel.

The rain lashed down all night last night, hammering on my windows and keeping me awake. By morning, the exhausted sky was slate gray, and white water blue, ghostly. Starlings chattered in the park, gulls swept overhead.

The world is astonishing. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

Why I meditate

zenAs I say, I’ve recently taken to meditating; every morning, sometimes in the afternoon, evening.

It’s been a month, more or less. Who knows if I’ll keep it up? I don’t even know why, initially, I started. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting it to do anything other than give me half an hour relaxation a day, half an hour ‘me time’. Half an hour sat like those slim white women (always slim, always white, always women) on the covers of books and magazines and in all the stock photography, with closed eyes and that irritatingly beautific expression beaming from the shelves and the screens and the pages of Yoga Today.

OK. I don’t sit like them. I am in some ways preternaturally flexible (hello boys), but I can’t quite comfortably manage a full lotus position – feet on thighs, pelvis square on the floor, stable, strong. I can drag my legs most of the way, and hold the pose out of sheer bloody mindedness while my  feet slide down and my ankles end up twisted at an angle that can’t be healthy (and certainly doesn’t feel it), and maybe even stay like that for a full 10 minutes while my legs go numb and my upper back starts to howl, but eventually I have to admit that I will never be a slim white woman.

Besides, I meditate zen-style. Eyes open.

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Other plans

It’s easy to get upset about things.

I know this is hardly a striking insight from someone prone to profound, paralysing depression. Still.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. And it’s easy to get upset about that.


It was meant to be redundancy, complete MSc, new and exciting job.

No, no, it was meant to be BSc, quit job, MSc, more interesting job.

No, no no no. It was meant to be move to London, get a job, have fun.

I mean, after the original plan had failed, that is. BA, job.

It was meant to be different, it wasn’t meant to be this. It wasn’t meant to be unemployed and skint and living with my family in my mid 30s. It wasn’t meant to be directionless and purposeless.

I didn’t mean to waste all that time and effort. And it’s easy to get upset about that.


Understandable too, I guess. But many understandable things are nevertheless unwise.

I think of suicide – when I think of suicide, which these days is rare but it’s a peculiarly hard habit to break – I think of suicide when I consider how much of my life I’ve wasted, which is a morbidly absurd line of reasoning. Life streams by, gentle, terrible, a single impossibly slim moment which somehow extends on forever.


I’ve taken to meditating.

I’ve dipped my toes into mindfulness based cognitive therapy before; that’s mindfulness rather than Mindfulness(TM), the latter being today’s fashionable false hope. But before mindfulness therapy was even a glimmer in Kabat-Zinn‘s eye, I was drawn to Zen Buddhism.

You try on personalities as a teenager. Try on beliefs and hobbies and ways of being, see if they’re comfortable. Drop and forget most of them, and I mostly dropped and mostly forgot all that hippy shit.


I meditate in the mornings, sometimes in the evenings. Sometimes my mind settles on my breathing with relative ease, other times it’s a butterfly in the wind. Sometimes I get frustrated at how I don’t settle, other times I don’t mind. Sometimes I breathe in and out, and in, and out, and it’s like I dissolve, the world blossoming and falling at once, every moment, endless. Other times I think of shopping lists. It doesn’t matter. The point of meditation, I’m beginning to realise, isn’t anything to do with meditation.


If only I’d been diagnosed earlier, if only they’d initially given me lamotrigine instead of citalopram, if only I’d taken my mental health more seriously, if only if only if only. I could have got the qualifications and the job and the money and the life you’re meant to have and enjoy rather than had years of tears and failure and now this, this, drifting, skint, jobless.

I walk in the park, most days. Pausing sometimes to look up at the ever changing sky, gulls wheeling on the wind, playing. Directionless. An impossibly slim moment stretched somehow into forever.

There are so very few ways, I think, that you can waste that moment. But suicide is definitely one of them.