Friday, January 30, 2015

Letting the Demons in

One of my favourite authors growing up was a British writer called Robert Westall.  He was a staple of the Young Adult section, and The Machine-Gunners was almost as ubiquitous as Of Mice And Men in high school English syllubuses for awhile.  Maybe it still is, I haven't been anywhere near a high school in quite some time!  He died in 1993 aged only 63 and seems to have disappeared from the consciousness somewhat, which I think is a shame.  

One of his books, The Scarecrows, deals a lot with the notion of anger.  The protagonist, Simon, is thirteen year-old boy in a 1969 boarding school, whose mother has re-married following his father's death.  He despises his step-father, and resents his mother's happiness.  I don't read as much as I used to, but it's one of the few books I can recall reading that deals much with the notion of male anger and isolation - much though it approaches it from an adolescent point of view.  I suppose that's not a bad place to look at it though, as I find that when I get angry I often feel helpless and trapped, and I didn't ever feel more helpless and trapped than when I was about that age.  

Early on the novel, Simon "lets in the devils", and loses his grip on his anger to the point that he brutally beats up the school smart-alec and bully in a fit of Incredible Hulk-style rage that he has no proper memory of.  It is related how they whisper to him to be set free, and that they hover in the periphery of his vision.  They are referred to several times but we only see them emerge properly once, but long enough for them to cause the bully and various of his friends to fear him, which isolates him further.  

Lately I've come to thinking about my own devils - or demons - and how they have haunted me somewhat.  I've been a person with a few anger issues along the line, both as a teenager and as an adult.  When I was thirteen, exactly the same age as Simon, I was a pretty unhappy kid and used to descend into absolute fits of rage on occasion, fits that caused no end of mirth to various of my school friends and did nothing much more than make a complete fool of me.  At various stages in my adult life I have felt helpless and trapped beyond measure, and powerless within my unhappiness to do anything about it - the latter stages of my office job spring to mind, plus the falling out of my last relationship.  Anger issues being anger issues I had a pretty short fuse, and would occasionally lash out verbally at people, usually strangers and third parties - bus and taxi drivers and the like, in a way that could only be described as self-destructive.  How I didn't get punched at various stages I will never know.  Thankfully I've managed to rein that sort of behaviour in in recent years, and much like an addict sensing a relapse I can recognise the danger signs.  Fatigue and stress are contributors, and if someone behaves badly or unjustly towards me when I'm in that state I've learnt to breathe, and divert myself.  It's been a long time since there's been any sort of flare-up of that kind by consequence, although I have also taken steps to make sure that I'm more in control of my life and state of general well-being which has definitely helped, too.         

I do suffer still from the odd set of demons, although they're not the anger type anymore - well not really.  These ones visit me at night after I've gone to bed, so they're well out of the way of people in the shopping queue, and have zero potential to make a fool out of me publicly.  They're pretty insiduous though, and the image of little malevolent creatures whispering to me just out of reach is pretty apt.  The idea of "letting them in" really works as well, as sometimes I lie there when I can't sleep and almost deliberately dwell on things from my past and present that make me unhappy.  I had a pretty bad bout of them last night and it seemed to go on for hours, and echoes of their visit stayed with me during the course of the following day - not so much what they were or what they "said", as much as just the fact that they'd been.  I had really funny dreams when I did get to sleep, too.  

Many of them centre around my emotional/love life or lack thereof, despite any pragmaticism that I might have espoused in my Being Single post.  A lot of them deal with my career and doubts about my professional future in Germany due to my struggles learning the language.  Others deal with my past on all possible fronts - previous relationships, betrayals from loved ones, friends and people that I trusted.  A particularly familiar and care-worn one deals with the episode of being publicly sacked from an opera in 2012 by someone I saw as a mentor.  I have spent many, many nights rehearsing what I would say to him if I ever saw him again - inevitably I become tongue-tied and my rhetoric dries up, even in my head.  As these things go round and around in my head, I'm also painfully aware that I probably wouldn't be having these conversations with myself if I wasn't alone in the bed in the first place.  

I wonder if this is common - the nature of personal demons is a cliché after all.  It does seem interesting to me that sometimes these little monsters visit me when I'm actually doing ok, though.  I'm doing pretty well at the moment and have nothing much to worry about - in fact just about everything in the above paragraph could be countered by any number of entirely legitimate counter-arguments, and reasons to feel confident, not the opposite.  Even the opera story, much though I still hate that prick, is water long under the bridge.  

So why now?  I have as little reason to stay awake at night, muttering to myself as at any other night than at any other stage for the last several years.  And yet, there I was.  It's a funny one, and maybe it serves to remind you that mental/psychological/emotional wellbeing is not a one-way street.  You are not always 100% whole, and you will have your bad moments on good days as well as good moments in the bad, which is why discipline is required, I guess.  Note to self: everyone has scar-tissue, and allowing yourself to dwell on it at 2am will only serve to re-open it.  

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