2.2 Learning To Live And Not Look After Myself

I had no sense of identity, either in relation to who I was, or who I wanted to be.

I was out in the world with no idea of who I was beyond how I related to my family, especially my parents, but I was out there, away from home.

The question of who we are is one that is often set aside and not dealt with. Of course we know who we are. We can see and feel our bodies and we can follow the thoughts that go through our heads. What else do we need to know? What else is there to know?

Beyond this, there follows the question of how to live. How to live, that is, beyond the simple day to day of doing a job, going to sleep, and eating. The question becomes about what life is and why we are here living it.

I did not know the answers to any of these questions at the time, indeed I did not even think these questions existed. Last week I looked at my involvement in the theatre and how I sank into my creativity. But why did I do this? What was going on inside me? I talked about how I did not want to do what others told me to, that was clearly a reaction to my years at home and my desire to get out from under the domination of my father. But this makes this desire for creativity a reaction, a way of moving on and establishing myself. But who was I to establish?

Looking back at this period I can see nothing but a big blank. I hid away in my work and avoided people, avoided connecting with people. As I sit at my computer writing this, I only feel emptiness and pain. The pain I feel in my gut touches in to the large black void that was there. I threw myself from a secure environment I hated into a dangerous environment I loved. I loved it because it allowed me to forge my own way. I loved it because it put me on the edge.

I realised recently that there is an idea that I have always loved living on the edge. It is not physical danger that I seek but living where I do not know what is going or who I am meant to be. This is how I was back then.

This is becoming confused in my mind and I need to step back and unpick what I am talking about. I need to find some clarity around this situation, otherwise I will remain lost and never clear up what is deep down at the heart of my life.

At the beginning of the book I said,

His soul is hidden inside his body. His body grows at a steady rate while seeming to run and crawl at the same time. Wrapped around the soul is a mind that wanders around trying to find the route to his soul, without realising it is tucked inside. Whenever his mind sees glimpses of this it rushes off to new places. The whole is buffeted by the storms of emotions that blow up out of nowhere like whirlwinds in the desert.

During my childhood, youth and early years at work I had no concept of this, I had no real idea of my soul. I was searching but in vacuum. I knew I needed to find something but I did not know what it was.

All I really knew about myself was that,

Then I was my body and my body was everything. I teased it into life every morning and soothed it to sleep every night. My body served me, and still does. This story starts with my physical existence and only slowly morphs into what was there underneath, but that is for later.

I was so lost that all I was able to do was concentrate on what I did between waking up and going to sleep. To make sense of this I fixated on external matters, my job, eating and where I lived. If I did not do this I was afraid that I would come apart at the seams and have to go back home, to the one place I did not want to go. I was running scared with out realising it.

I had no idea how to look after myself. I grabbed ideas and then did not know how to move forward with them. I did not think much about clothes, so I would wear dirty clothes and would smell, it never occurred to me that you go beyond this. My shoes were a powerful example of this. I wore boots, because of my foot, and found it difficult to find shoes that fitted me. Since I did not spend any time looking after myself, such as shopping for clothes, and since I avoided shopping for shoes at all, my boots wore out. I can remember walking along the street one summer with holes in my soles that went all the way through. The pavement was hot, making it difficult to walk. This was an unbelievable situation.

The flats that I lived in were in a permanent state of chaos with dirty dishes in the sink and stale milk in the fridge. I constantly upset flatmates because I did not look after anything. I borrowed books, and did not return them, I used things of theirs without even understanding that I was.

The aspect of this that makes no sense, looking back, is that I am not an untidy person. I now see myself with a mild form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I like to have things in their place and I like to look neat and tidy when I dress up. So I was either repressing this back then or I now have it to push the past away. I do not really care which, what is important is the understanding which I now have that I was suffering deeply then and I am not now.

Later, I started to see this feeling as depression, whether it was or not I never found out. Sitting now, as I write, I feel a sense of depression that was very real at the time. I had what is sometimes called an existential crisis. In Wikipedia it is described as,

…a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value. It is commonly tied with depression and/or a feeling of a lack of purpose in life…

I was sure there was a meaning or purpose to my life, I just did not know what it was. Perhaps I was suffering more from an existential loss, that is a deep feeling of loss, similar to greiving the loss of someone you love. In my case the loss was of myself. This resulted in a deep experience of fear, fear of who I really am and fear of what is going to happen. It is common to deal with the existence of existential fear by diving into an activity that will take the pain away, in my case this was work, or more specifically, creativity.

Now I come to the most confusing aspect of this situation; it was my exploration of creativity that lead me out of the dark pit that I was in. It took time — I mean many years — but I was able to find myself in my contribution to the world. I still follow that path, now through writing rather than lighting, but still using my creativity to contribute to others and make sense of my life.

In the Hero’s Journey, often used to create stories of challenge and redemption, there are two worlds that a person deals with, the ordinary world and a special world. It is in the special world that the hero faces his challenges and finds his reward. The end of the journey is when he brings the reward back into the ordinary world. Two key points are when he crosses from one world to the other, and faces enemies and challenges. I had crossed from my ordinary world (secure environment) into my special world (dangerous environment) and was lost. I was struggling to find an approach to my life, one that would take me through this world to my reward, or redemption. I had no idea of this at the time, I just saw a frightening world that I wanted to hide from, but one that I wanted to dominate and control, because that is how I had learned to behave.

Next week I will start looking at how I behaved to hide away from life, focusing on drinks and drugs. This is not a period I am particularly proud of.

Thank you for following this story, it is deeply important to me and, I hope, it brings light in a way that will help others navigate this path and these issues.

— Image Credit: Flickr/Helen Harrop, under a Creative Commons License. The image has been cropped.

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