I got nothing

I’ve just gone five days without having a decent idea for a drawing. To most people that probably isn’t a big deal but to me it has felt like a yawning void of the soul sucking me in and leaving me feeling completely hollow. My mind usually works overtime, so much so that my poor hands have trouble keeping up. Not everything I create is that great and, frankly, there is an awful lot that probably should never have see the light of day. That said, the more distance get on the events that lead to their creation, the ones that I regret doing often change and in some cases, with hindsight and further knowledge, I even wish that I I hadn’t held back quite so much. 

It is only after today, where I have just had an absolute corker of an idea, that I feel that I could even acknowledge the unspoken dread that I was having an ideas drought, such was the fear that it was here to stay. My life has been pretty grim lately and I have often been gripped with a paralysing fear that had lasted for days at a time; add to that the manufactured pressure that it is now a new year and that everything is suddenly supposed to feel fresh and full of hope (except it clearly doesn’t ) and you get a toxic brew that is guaranteed to knock the wind out of anyone’s sails.

I have decided to embark on a series of drawings about grief as it is something that I have been experiencing since last summer. Dealing with it has been complicated by a number of factors and I am only just getting around to processing it properly. I also feel that, as subject matter, it may prove to be cathartic. 

Anyway, that’s it for now, I have work to do. Finally. 

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Assume the position

It’s been a rough month. It’s been a rough year, truth be told. It seems like I’ve been fighting one load of nonsense after another for as long as I can remember now. But a couple of weeks ago now, three things hit at once and I ended up beingcarted off to my doctor by a mental health support worker. The last two weeks have passed in a slow, feverish,  nightmare of panic, anxiety, depression and side effects to numerous types of medication, all of which was accompanied by howling winds and sideways rain as the days seemed to come out in sympathy which my state of mind.

I drew nothing for a fortnight; this for me is unheard of. But, before the brain chemical induced rot set in I managed one drawing. I wanted to capture that feeling of being huddled on the sofa, paralysed by a mixture of fear and misery as the world around you feels more and more unsafe, clinging to the cushions as to a raft in a storm. 

I like to try and find a point in most things, however awful they might be. Hopefully, when I get some distance on all this, this drawing might have been the point of it.

It’s a beautiful day

I cried this morning for the first time in a long time. I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was; some distant memory of a safer and happier day from childhood I think. It’s just been too much, I have been crushed and ground down over the course of the last six months or so. First by a sham medical company employed by a mendacious government, then by the bureaucracy of the now private social services who were supposed to help me. A twisted brief spark of romance turned into an insane pantomime that crushed my notion of self worth and, finally, a brief glimmer of hope in the form of actually getting (sort of) paid for something has triggered a situation which could well leave me poverty stricken and homeless. Every day I wait; as my already damaged heart pumps in my chest and my legs turn to jelly as I wait for decisions to be made by people who don’t know me that will decide as to whether I have any sort of future or not.

The letterbox that once bought me shiny tat from the far corners of the world is clearly not my friend anymore, it’s become a toxic orifice that is waiting to spew poison onto my doormat that could eat right through me.

The really sick thing is though… It’s such a beautiful day. It’s a sunny, crisp, Autumn day full of birdsong and the sound of gentle breezes…

Time passes… I’ve been out and come back, my legs turned to jelly as I reached home, fearful of what the post person has brought me… There is nothing. I don’t know however if it is nothing because there was no post today or whether they are just later than usual in their deliveries. As I sit in my flat ( mine for how much longer I fear to imagine) I hear the children having fun  in the local school playground. It’s such a soothing sound but today it brings me no comfort…. My world remains very wrong; beyond the sunshine, beyond the nature, I can feel the pressure of the souless machinery of state, turning its hating gaze at me and licking its lips. Another spirit to crush, another light to snuff out, another file to close, another problem for society to be dealt with permanently in this country’s own final solution. 

Home alone

It’s an awful admission but I feel very uncomfortable when I see homeless people. Not through callousness or a sense of embarrassment or the usual reasons but because I used to be one of them. There are few things harder to cope with than to look around your home and have to choose the handful of neccessaties that you can stuff in a bag, knowing that everything else has to go, along with the roof over your head.  Mercifully, I never sank further than the sofa surfing stage but it still took a decade to recover, by which point many of life’s goals like a family or home ownership had passed me by.

Things have not been going well of late and my personal security is currently in the hands of a bunch of faceless bureaucrats that I shall never meet. Decisions are being made by strangers that could very well see me back in that position again, but at 48 with a dodgy heart, the idea or crawling back up the greasy pole of life again from homelessness is unthinkable.

I’m used to having panic attacks, I have dealt with them all my life, but the ones I’ve been having recently are on another level. I’ve gone blind twice this week, I’ve lost the power to stand and rational thought has left me on a number of occasions. The chest pains are sadly a norm right now but I know it’s not my heart packing up because I’ve checked that out. Yippee! 

Right now, I’ve done all I can and its all just a waiting game. I’m trying to salvage what I can from this sorry situation by documenting it in some way. I’ve been trying to illustrate how it feels when your life caves in; that moment where you discover that everything that you took for granted could just disappear. There are moments where one brown envelope on the doormat can change the course of your life; where one wrong choice pulls apart the fabric of your world, as if it was all no more that a cheap stage set that is being dismantled around you.

I pray my fears are unfounded and that this will all just be another blip before life returns to what passes for normal, but in the meantime I’m just going to keep on drawing. It’s better than doing nothing. 

Three little dots.

I have been painfully aware of how much of this year has been spent on waiting… 

There have been three major reasons for this waiting and they are in order of length of time as follows. One; to get paid for some artwork I did. Two; to have an even half coherent explanation for what someone did and why. Three; to find out whether the government are going to pull the plug on some much needed financial life support. 

The answers to these questions are irrelevant to the purpose that I’m focused on though, which is how much time do we spend waiting and what we do while we are doing it. While waiting fir the above I have produced my own book; I drew the pictures, wrote short pieces to accompany them, cleaned up, compiled and got the thing out into the world. I’ve probably done a couple of hundred pieces of art this year, I would say about twenty of those were pretty okayish. I’ve read numerous books, made clothes, helped friends achieve a few of their own life goals. I would like to think that this year was not a waste even though in my head it’s very much about the twiddling of metaphorical thumbs.

Like anyone beyond a certain age, I am painfully aware of the passing of time and the notion of time that has been spent poorly. I think of the days in my twenties where I worked in a job I despised and would stare at the clock for most of the seven hours and twelve minutes of the day, wishing it would pass quicker. I’m aware the times in recovery from various health problems and how each minute would be an age of pain. I remember that excitement as a child, when you would wait for Christmas morning, when you just couldn’t sleep. I am happy to report that I still get a little of that now in the form of waiting for finished work to be produced at the printers; the new book feeling is rather wonderful and something that I’m privileged to be able to experience. 

Like many who have undergone life changing or indeed life threatening experiences, time becomes more precious as it dawns on you just how little you really have. The idea of wasting time now is abhorant to me and probably the worst way of doing that, in my mind, is to spent it with the wrong people. I have little tolerance now for anyone of a toxic nature and wish to be away from them as quickly as is humanly possible; there are plenty of people out there who will happily dig their claws in and suck every atom of life and energy from you if you drop your guard. Fortunately, there are plenty of lovely people out in the world too, the trick is to sort the good from the bad quickly enough and value yourself enough to choose the good.

Somewhere along the way and the years my idea of wasting time changed; it no longer became about cramming every spare moment full of something so that it could be accounted for on some cosmic ledger but (and I apologise in advance for how cringy this is going to sound) actually being in the moment. It’s the little things that I value the most; sunlight or a cool breeze on skin or silence, a rare and precious gift in an urban environment. I love just drinking a good cup of coffee or just sitting somewhere comfortable and just reading a book, prefererably the sort with pages, print and the delightful smell. The simplest and best way of spending time to me though is to just acknowledge every single moment that I don’t feel ill or in pain, be that the emotional or physical sort. 

Anyway, I’m bored of this. Time has run out. Goodbye!

The look.

I’ve felt really grotty for the last few days…. And I am loving every minute of it. I find feeling physically ill such a relief as it’s a welcome break from being poleaxed by mental health problems. As I felt my temperature rise and the back of my throat turned raw, I finally had something treatable to deal with, I could merrily trudge down to the chemist and buy a stockpile of cough sweets and packets of potions, knowing that I could head back home to bed for the day with a clear conscience because I have the lurgey! I have a bug! I have a physical illness that has brought me low that I can garner sympathy from other people for having. Virtual strangers will cheerfully offer me advice on vapour rubs and bowls full of steaming menthol and what combination of pills will ease the symptoms the best.

The truth is, I have been crawling into bed of an afternoon for months now. The combined weight of events that I have had to process has robbed me of much of my mental energy and I am so psychologically battered that I can only cope with being awake with the contents of my own skull for no more than a few hours at a time. I won’t be sharing that with the lady in the chemist though, or dropping my inability to cope with the sound and chatter of other people with the bloke in the corner shop because if I do… I shall get ‘the look’ and that is the last thing I need.

There is a special look that people give you when you talk about mental health problems, it is a mixture of pity, helplessness and fear in equal measures. Mental health problems are completely unfathomable to those that haven’t experienced them and when presented with someone having a mental wobble, most people just don’t know where to begin; the nicer ones feeling obligated to help in some way, only to realise that they don’t have a clue what to do. There is a thankfully small number of people who see someone who is mentally vulnerable and view them as an opportunity, someone to exploit… I was involved with someone like this once, she stole thousands of pounds off me and treated me appallingly; I see her from time to time, the world hasn’t been kind to her and I would like to think that she feels bad for what she did… She probably doesn’t though. The majority of people just try and get out of your presence as quickly as possible as if your madness or sadness is an infectious disease that they will swiftly catch. 

After some thirty five years of anxiety and depression, I would like to think that the look no longer bothers me, but it does. What bothers me most is the fear element buried in their eyes, as if I will lash out and hurt someone, because that is what crazy people do. To be honest, the worst thing you will ever get from me is a nasty drawing and to warrant one of those you have to be exceptionally loathsome. Mostly though, the worst most people would get is me drooling on their sofa if I’ve crawled up in a ball on it.

The context many know mental health problems in is when something hideous happens. Some unmedicated schizophrenic goes on a killing spree or someone with chronic depression finally snaps and kills themselves and their family; it’s reported in lurid headlines and wildly inaccurate detail in the tabloids and never put into any context. The neglect, the poverty or the failings of the underfunded resource services go unreported. If daily you walked past the charred remains of a newly burnt building you would be asking questions of the government but people huddled outside shop doorways or human wreckage dragging up children s tolerated constantly without a second glance. Our world is very sick and no one seems to care.

There is another prejudice that people succumb to and I admit that I use it to make my life slightly more comfortable; the mad artist. Whilst absolute garbage, it works wonders in alleviating me of some of problems that other crazy people have to deal with. Being half decent at drawing affords me context that people can deal with and (mostly) leave me be.

Regardless of the occasionally celebrity or government led campaign, this world is completely antagonistic to people of a sensitive or fragile nature. It’s brash, it’s cruel and its systems and structures unintentionally crush the mentally ill with no comprehension of why it’s happening or any will to stop it. The ignorance is astounding and all pervasive, I would hazard a guess that it was intentional some times be I would just get the look again before someone asked me if I was suffering from paranoia. 

It’s curious really; the only time that most people are willing to mention mental health issues is when you try and defend yourself, only then do the derogatory words they know come out. I would like to think that, in my lifetime, there will come a point where the way we treat the mentally ill now will be looked upon in horror like racism or sexism but there seems great capital in maintaining at least one scapegoat left in the world and crazy people seem to fit the bill perfectly.

Don’t panic!

This week I have been beset by near constant feelings of panic and anxiety. This isn’t a new thing for me, in fact I nearly died a couple of years back because I have lived with near constant anxiety for so long that I failed to realise that my heart was failing. 

 The strange thing is that, in relative terms, life has very much improved over the last few weeks. While I haven’t actually won the war that was declared on me by a government backed sham medical company, I certainly won a major battle. I’ve also manage to explain the fridge light scenario that prevents me from having a paper trail would instantly keep all the bureaucratic vultures from constantly pecking at me, how can you tell that the fridge light goes off when the door is shut and how can you tell that Chris is too fragile to be around other people for long when he refuses to be around people for long because he is so fragile?  That alone is a reason to relax a little and yet I’m still waking up with my body flooded with adrenaline like the world is about to end. Why?

There are a number of things going on in my world at the moment that are quite upsetting, there are loose ends that haven’t been tied up, events that have left me battered and bruised and financial issues that haven’t been settled that could spell disaster for my future security. This is nothing new though, this is my world, sadly. 

Sometimes chronic anxiety can be caused by something making your world ‘wrong’, often something so all pervasive that it is hard to make out what it is. This often turns out to be a person or a life choice, something that is causing upset on such an all encompassing level that the panic only stops when the person leaves your life or the life choice reaches a natural end; it’s a ‘can’t see the wood for the trees sort of moment. I’m 99% sure that I’m not having on of these right now… But there is still that 1% left that I’m duty bound to be aware of. The truth is, I’m doing what I love every day, my friends are wonderful and it can’t be a dodgy girlfriend (because I haven’t got one) so I guess I can rule out my subconscious trying to give me warning signals completely.

So why do I feel so bloody awful? Well, I have learned the sad truth; it’s because I just do. For whatever reason I just feel terrible and that is it, the trick is to just accept it. For long term anxiety suffers, your body chemistry becomes so messed up that you panic for no other reason than your body thinks that’s just what it’s supposed to do. 

What happens next is particularly insidious; like lightning grounding on the tallest object, your brain looks for the thing you are least happy with in your head and chooses that as your de facto source of panic. If you aren’t careful, you can jumble everything up and you are crawling up the walls about a mish mash of rubbish that has been formed into a shape that is big enough and ugly enough to scare the bejesus out of you. It looks scary, but it isn’t real and there is little you can do to stop it once it’s got it’s claws into your mind. 

When you feel that sinking feeling and your world begins to unravel like a jumper caught on an escalator, try and take a deep breath and stop. Be kind to yourself, find something useful to occupy your racing mind, be patient, the panic will pass, eventually.

 The clipboards we never got.

I have been discussing with a friend the perils of new relationships; not just romantic ones but the problems that occur when you let someone new into your world. Both of us have been left mentally and emotionally battered by people who have got into our worlds and wreaked havoc with our lives as their nonsense slowly infected our otherwise calm and ordered existences.

Meeting new people is always a gamble and even more so for highly sensitive souls like myself. If you never meet anyone new , your world becomes stagnant and, as an artist, I end up with nothing fresh to draw inspiration from; but with strange people comes a chance of the bad getting in, it’s a chance you occasionally have to take.

When you meet someone new they can unfold like a flower, getting more and more fascinating over time; sadly, they can also unwrap like a parcel bomb, revealing more and more nastiness as their mechanisms become exposed and you are left with a mess that you are terrified to go near and fearful of getting rid off because of the potentially awful consequences.

Over the past few years I have dealt with quite a few of the bomb variety of people and, as I look back on the carnage and misery that they left in their path, a simple thought occurs to me. What if, when you are introduced to a new person, how nice it would be it we were handed a clipboard; and on it was a simple check sheet with all that person’s issues and the problems that they will cause you listed in easily readable text? It would save so much heartache if, before we became emotionally entangled with a person, we had to check and initial each toxic event that someone would inflict on us and sign to say we knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. 

People aren’t like that though are they? They are barely ever honest with themselves, let alone anyone else, and the chances of anyone having the clarity of thought and the self awareness to be able to even see their mess, let alone know how badly it will spill out on another person. Self awareness is very much the key as to why things go wrong with anyone new (well in my world at least) as most of my long term friendships are with very wise people who have managed to straddle that fine line between calm and dull and keep on the interesting side. When people aren’t honest about who they are and what they do, things inevitable go wrong in their lives; it’s hardly a suprise that anyone who comes into contact with them will suffer too.

Perhaps it would do people good to be forced to write out their own list of issues? If not to hand out to others, then at least for their own self awareness. It would be like they risk assements I have to compile when I’m running workshops but instead of pointy scissors and fire hazards it would be more personal. 

In the interests of fareness and honesty, here is a quick go at mine…

It is highly likely that I will not like your friends.

It is doubtful that I will turn up to your social event as I wouldn’t even bother to show up for my own.

If I do your portrait and you aren’t very nice, neither will the picture be.

If you take me somewhere crowded, I won’t hear a word you are saying but I will nod and smile like I do, I will then run out without warning and go home because I’ve had a panic attack. 

If I don’t like you, you will know it.

If I don’t like what you are doing, you will know it.

I do not dance and if you try and make me, I will hate you forever.

In fact, if you try and make me do anything I don’t want to I shall hate you.

If there are books in the room,  I will be distracted. If they are your books and I don’t like them, I will judge you.

If your house or car are overly tidy, I shall be deeply suspicious of you.

If you talk about sport or excercise I shall phase out and probably yawn.

That’s off the top of my head; looking at it , I could come across as either judgey or self righteous. Both fare points but I am listing the negatives here, the sort of things that could clash badly with someone else’s life or personality and cause friction. What I’m trying to say though is that if someone reads this list  on their first meeting and it clearly sets off their own alarms, perhaps that would be the better option than having to feel all heartbroken later on when things are muddied by love, sex or friendship; things could swiftly end there, people could go their own way with no more awkwardness than if they realised that they had come out without any money, annoying but hardly the end of your world.

There is, sadly, a gaping hole it this theory; so many people are severely deluded about themelves and would write nothing because they are convinced that they are just perfect. Then there are others still who would get some twisted pleasure in writing a load of absolute garbage to sucker you into their toxic world, as if they are on some kind of kamikaze mission to take everyone else down with their mess too. In fact, the only way this would work is if it had a form of legal framework like a driving license. A test maybe?  Or perhaps everyone should have a certain amount of sessions with a psychiatrist or a counsellor to assess how well they would interact with others? Unfortunately, there are all these annoying things like rights that tell us that we are free to do what we want and we are blindly stumbling into a totalitarian state for simply wanting a quiet life. 

So I guess we are stuck with this situation; a never ending nightmare where everyone we meet has the chance to slowly poison our lives… Free will. It’s a pain in the arse.

This strange feeling

It’s stupid o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. A lot happened today and all of it was good, a massive weight was lifted from me in the shape of sham medical that would have had more resemblance to a Salem witch trial than a valid investigation. It doesn’t stop the same quacks from making merry with my medical papers at my expense (in more ways than one) but it does take aware the ritual humiliation of being trapped in a room with someone intent on doing me harm at the government’s behest. I had money thrown at me for a huge amount of greetings card sales that I had completely forgotten about, and an offer of some well paid and high profile work landed in my lap. 

I’ve felt edgy all day, since I got the good news in the post to be exact and some fourteen hours later I feel wired and have resorted to writing this in the vain hope that in my relax me enough to nod out. The feeling is hard to place; it’s not happiness as such, there is far too much crap still going on for that. It’s more an absense to fear.

The sad truth is that I have felt nothing but fear for months now as my world has turned progresively more and more terrifying. The government sponsored attack aside, I have been fighting battle after battle and witnessed as people around me have done some truly awful things.
I honestly have no capacity right now to process good things. Through long underuse, my capacity to process justice, goodness and positivity have atrophied and I am deeply wary of experiencing such things for fear of exposing my fragile feelings of hope to the harsh light of day again.

It would be easy to remain numb to it all, to keep myself shut down for fear of getting hurt again. I could focus on all that is still broken; on miseries to come and the abattoir than was my love life. Those feeling of fear, despair and heartache have become like a pair of old slippers to me; so comfortable to slip into but fundemantally useless to take me anywhere new.

Hopefully I will soon sleep. Hopefully if will become used to this no terror state for long enough that that I can climb through the emotions as far as the distant goal of happiness. It’s been a long time but it would be nice to feel happy again. 

Today has not been ok.

There are two types of depression sufferers; those that make themselves a martar to it and the other sort. I try not to talk about what I go through too much, partly because I do not want to be defined by an illness and partly because people rapidly get bored and switch off. It’s ok, I don’t blame them, I’ve had to deal with it for around forty years now and you couldn’t get any more sick of it than I am. 

Usually, I can manage it ok, like most chronic health conditions (and I have a few ), you just learn to live with it. You resign yourself to your limitations and try to make them as unnoticeable as you can. I avoid triggers, look after my health as best I can and try not to ever overdo things. It’s a very quiet life filled with art, books and a handful of close friends, but it suits me.

Mostly, I can manage fine… Until I can’t, that is. 

Right now, things are bad, really bad.

I had a break up that affected me badly; I doubt if you could even call it a romance, the ghost of one maybe? The shadow? The tentative promise? Whatever is was, it ended in a whimper rather than a bang and left a bitter note across what could have been a beatiful summer.

The break up though, whatever it was, was nothing compared to the horrors that have poisoned the bulk of this year. I have been engaged in a long and cruel struggle not to be seen by a sham of a medical service. The last two times they crossed my path I came away feeling mind raped. It is strange to think that in what is laughably called the first world, we allow this sort of thing to go on; the ritual humiliation of the most vulnerable for profit by a company that doesn’t give a toss about anyone at the behest of a brutal government determined to ram home its ideology at the cost of the lives of its poorest and most vulnerable people. Suffice to say, I would sooner die than go through it again.

The last few days have been pretty terrible. They have been filled with fear and helplessness as I wait for a better doctors letter; hoping it will arrive before the government sponsored bullies try and put me through their witch trial. They don’t even try to pretend that they are looking through the evidence that they are sent anymore, they just send  letter after letter, appointment after appointment. Everything you pride yourself on is stripped away, every little victory, every achievement, all collapse. I wonder about who could work in such jobs; what human filth could be medically trained and then use that skill to hurt, not help; like trying to get in the mind if a serial killer, it’s impossible, the banality of an evil that masquerades as a government department. They wake up, ruin people’s lives, chat about the soaps in their lunch break and then crush a few more futures; then they go home and sleep soundly having long ago dehumanised everyone they see as a subhuman piece of dross. We distance ourselves from the notion that evil can exist on our doorstep; it’s something that happens elsewhere, viewed through a television screen or in black and white like the footage of concentration camps. Evil is here now, it lives and breaths in anonymous looking buildings where the companies true name can only be viewed by the sharpest of eyes as even they know at their heart what monsters they truly are.

I wake up now, wondering when I can go back to sleep again; days portioned into naps, sleeps and catatonia as I am stuck in a loop of despair. The brain stores things by experience, object sensitivity if you want the correct term, when we are down, everything else that ever brought us down is there to hand; all our failures, our self loathing, every failed relationship, every missed opportunity is there to hand to bear overselves up with. I just want to sleep, experience oblivion again, all the while aware of the next logical link in that chain of thought.

Right now, I am clinging on; each day is time served. Keep your head down Christopher and your nose clean as you wait for some outside agency to intervene and grant me a reprieve. It’s a long fight I’m in and I’m certainly not winning it at the moment. Truth is, I’m not certain I will be getting out of this one alive.