I’ve waited a few weeks before making this update as I’ve wanted to try and gain a little perspective on the whole trip.
In many ways the trip was a great success. It would be wrong to say that it was exactly what I was looking for, or that it gave me the answers to my questions. What it did do was give me a much better set of questions to ask. Rather then feel as though I am wondering directionless, I have found a new sense of purpose. Perhaps more importantly, I have also found a new sense of self worth.
The negatives first. If indeed this first can be called a negative. I now have a lot of difficult decisions and choices ahead of me. Mainly surrounding my future and where I want my life to take me. Certainly for the last few months, I’ve felt emotionally empty, lost and devoid of feeling. In short it has been the lowest period of my life. But the second that I stepped out of this island a place that I have called home for all of my life – I suddenly felt alive. My mind started to work on levels that I had all but given up on ever experiencing again. Emotions flooded back – joy, hope, desire, intrigue. All had been buried under the mental detritus caused by years of depression. Above all, was a feeling of relief, that the worst was behind me. I’d been told many times that these emotions would return. But when the only emotion that you have felt in months is despair, it becomes very hard to believe that. Yet, here they were and it was me that was experiencing them. They weren’t being interpreted to me by someone else, and more importantly, it wasn’t somebody else telling me how I should be feeling at the time.
There is nothing worse then listening to people tell you that you’re having a good time when inside that really isn’t what you’re feeling at all. You can see that that all the ingredients are there for a good time. Everyone else it plainly having a good time, and then someone tells you that its a great time. But you aren’t thinking like that. All your thinking is that this is at best tolerable, and if it is a good time, it is because you aren’t alone trapped with your own thoughts. Instead you go through the motions, all the time wondering, waiting, and dreading the moment that the switch inside your head flicks from numb to despair. That moment when all those thoughts that have been held back by the ‘good time’ can no longer be kept at bay and break through the barrier. At those times, you are reduced to hoping that the barrier holds until you reach home, and bed. Even then you’re doing the calculations in your head trying to figure exactly when is the optimum time to leave. the one that allows you to hit the bed and just fall immediately asleep.
Get that calculation wrong, and the switch can flip at the wrong time – too early and its the sudden desire to leave. Then you don’t even remember the rest of the night. Instead you wake up, somewhere, with a feeling of dread – what did I do last night? You can feel the bruises, and telltale marks on the body. An aching of the jaw or the temple where from where a punch has been landed, and the darkening of the knuckles that tell the story of who it was that threw the connecting punch. Of course the bruises won’t be in a visible location. Oh no, because even at the lowest ebbs, those which you won’t remember other then in a feeling of horror – there is still that last vestige of self control somewhere. Don’t do anything that is permanent, you’ve already got enough scars. More importantly never do anything to anyone else – its not their fault or their fight. Or it goes the other way. You get home and you don’t sleep. Instead the mind races at a million miles an hour. Hundreds of scenarios play out over the mind – none of them ending well. Conversations take place the mind filling in both sides of the argument. They never end well, and you have had the conversation and it never ends well, so best never to broach that subject in reality. Its a strange dreamlike state of mind where reality and fiction merge. Did that really happen last night? Or was it in the mind? In the morning once awoken. A fitful sleep after finally dropping off with exhaustion, you go through the ritual – check the body for bruises. Check the phone for texts, and finally check the internet to see if you’ve written anything stupid and more importantly did you send it?
These are all dark places and they are something that I could not have written about prior to undertaking this journey. I was obviously aware of the thoughts, but they were just normal everyday life. Trying to explain it to anyone that has never had the experience for themselves is an exercise confusion and danger as it proves impossible for them to relate. The analogy that I draw is the changing of the seasons. Autumn draws to a close, and winter steps in. You of course realise that the days aren’t as long, and are colder. But you don’t focus on the fact you are living through winter – its just everyday life. It’s not until the end of Spring, when you realise that you have not worn a jacket for a week and that you think back to just a few months ago and now with context you can say what an awful winter it was that has just passed.
What I’ve now realised is that feeling that way I had does not need to happen. The real challenge is how to prevent myself from slipping back into the abyss. These are where the difficult decisions lie. I’ve an idea of the steps I need to take. But I need to take time to implement them properly and not rush into anything.
I said that I have come away with a greater feeling of self worth. This is in part due to the re-emergance of my own personality and the realisation that I am still capable of feelings that are not dark. But a huge part in realising that I am not a worthless person came about in a sad way – witnessing some of the people in America. It only takes a glance to realise that I have a weight problem. I’m a big guy and there is no hiding or denying it. But its something that I’ve never made excuses about or indeed used as an excuse for anything else. Now America is also pretty well known for having citizens with weight problems and this I saw in abundance. I saw people larger then me, and of course I saw people smaller then me. But what I also saw disgusted me in many ways. For example in Washington, I saw a man of roughly my size. I saw him a few times in couple of locations. He was obviously doing the rounds in the museums as was I. What made him stand out to me was that he had an electric mobility scooter, and I didn’t once see him without some sort of food in his hand. Walking across the Mall, I stopped of the refreshment stand to buy a drink. Up trundled our man, parked up his scooter and with a maximum of grunting, huffing and puffing he got out and walked up and joined the queue. It was then that it hit me – other then the weight there was nothing physically wrong with this man at all. His ‘disability’ was nothing more then pure laziness. I speak as a fat bastard, not as a perfectly healthy person of an ideal weight applying their own ideals of physicality to another person. I have to say that the sight of this man disgusted me. It is people like him that cause the grief that overweight people are given. Yet, here he was. Completely unselfconsciously devouring a couple of hot dogs on a park bench. He obviously had no compunctions about being out in public, whereas I’d have mild panic attacks going to get a haircut.
This man was the most obvious example, along with a family in Flagstaff that quite simply had trouble getting through the doors of the Amtrak without a struggle. At the Grand Canyon I had someone comment that I was ‘mad’ to go for a walk along the trail when buses were available. I saw all these people and one thought stood out in my mind – I’m better then you are. Wow, on the face of it what an arrogant and obnoxious thing to say. I don’t know, maybe that it exactly what it is. But when you come from the position of feeling that your life is worthless and that the world would be a better place without you – then to witness people without any of those hang ups and coming to the conclusion that you actually have a hell of a lot more to offer then they do, its a mind-blowing revelation. It also plays two key roles in my own recovery. First – that emotionally and mentally I may have hit bottom, but in terms of actually being human, I had not hit anywhere near bottom. Secondly, it gives me a focus – no matter how bad I am feeling, never let myself become as low as that.
So in answer to the question ‘what did you take away from America?’ my answer is quite simply that I rediscovered part of myself. I kinda liked the person that I found, and so I brought him home with me. I also confirmed certain suspicions that I had about myself, discovered that some of the beliefs I had about myself were simply fallacies and opened a doorway in my mind that leads to a place that I look forward to exploring.
So what comes next?
Obviously I would be doing myself no favours if I simply returned home and slipped back into the old routine. That would simply be a recipe for disaster and a surefire way to fall back into the clutches of depression. My plan is simple – self improvement. I’m currently investigating various forms of vocational training. I’m also looking at various methods of gaining the sort of qualifications and experience to put me on a path on which I would be pleased to spend the rest of my life. That of course is all part of long term plans. what a wonderful thing it is to even be thinking in the long term When just a short while ago, I had but a single plan.
In the short term, Im trying to concentrate in continuing with recovery. I’m sure that learning, development, discovery and adventure will play a large part in that. To those ends I’ve made a few changes. I’ve tided my living environment, and bought a new bed. A brighter and more comfortable environment to match my own mind. I’ve also booked a couple of trips. One trip to London to see the NFL game at Wembley. How strange. At the beginning of this year, I had never visited Wembley and never seen an American Football game live. Now in the space of a few months I will have done both – twice. More excitingly, I’m going to be traveling to Morocco in March. I’ll be taking part in a creative photography retreat. Studying with professional photographers and an amazing location. As you may know from previous writing, one of the only passions that I really have is photography. This will be the first ever training that I’ll have undertaken. Everything that I have learnt so far has been completely self taught through trial and error. This will be the first, but I don’t intend it to be the last and hope to begin working towards some form of official accreditation. Last for now is that I’ve vowed to continue writing. In the last few months months, and particularly whilst writing this travelogue I’ve realised just how much I enjoy writing. Again this is a skill which I am going to try and develop, even if it does not really come naturally to me.
So there we are in a a nutshell – the state of the Neil Blakely nation if you like. I’ve come away from a great adventure with a new lease of life, an idea of who I am and for the first time that I can remember with an idea of where I’d like to go.
Until the next adventure…….