The Song & The Sea

On occasions my tendency to over-share has been remarked upon, rather often it has to be said with good reason. I will happily recount salacious tales that others with a better sense of decorum would keep to themselves, I like the shock value, the inappropriateness, but rarely if ever will I venture into talking about the things that get to me on a deeper level. This is perhaps because I think nobody will find them interesting – one’s own angsts are never particularly attractive are they? I also have to say that doing so is an act of vulnerability in the opening up. How much easier it is to play the character of a carefree or even careless geezer, the facade of the japester or the joker or the fool is a comfortable facade with which to clothe yourself.

That’s not to say that I don’t have weightier thoughts, or that I lack introspection, I do introspection and reflection along with plenty of time in my own personal darkness, but propagating a tale of brighter skies has it’s value, tell a story often enough and even you can come to believe it.

Social media has had its fair share of traffic around the subject of male mental health in the last few years, as a gender we men are rather poor communicating about depression, or getting help for it, that most definitely is a bloke thing, we are often taught from a young young age that a man should be a man, short-hand in other words to suck it up when faced with adversity, to battle through it and not to talk about it – to do so shows weakness. Women on the other hand are far more likely when confronted with depression to talk about it, to share their qualms and worries with others. For this the old adage of a problem shared being a problem halfed rings true, in the telling the darkness turns brighter.

Seven years ago I was prescribed anti-depressants, at the time I was just a little bit fucked in the mental health stakes. Talking through my with my Doctor at a consultation brought a sympathetic ear and a quick prescription. After picking up the meds from the pharmacy I read the instructions, there was a lengthy description of potential side effects, vivid dreams was one amongst many.
I began taking them, that first night the dreams came thick and fast, my sleep a rolling nightscape permeated with strange lucid imaginings. By day I found my senses dulled, like a piano played with the damper pedal applied, the notes were all there but they didn’t resonate, instead, all feelings, good, bad, indifferent became a single monotone.
After three days I jacked the meds, the cure felt worse than the ailment, feelings, even if painful were better than feeling nothing at all, for me at least.

I knew that I needed to help myself and began searching for ways to fix me, an interest in Buddhism that had lingered with me but remained largely unexplored was taken up, I would head each day to the local Buddhist centre for lunchtime meditation classes, an hour and a half of stillness sitting cross legged, I kept at it doggedly day after day, all the time the idea and reality of a quiet mind eluded me, but somewhere deep down I was certain that Buddhism in some form or another could make a difference.
My sleep continued to be a problem, no matter how late I stayed up a good nights sleep always seemed to elude me, it felt impossible to fall asleep and even when I finally did I would wake at three or four a.m. with a start form an uncomfortable dream. My Doctor suggested sleeping pills, I picked them up form the pharmacy but never used them, pills I was certain were not an answer.

Then one night lying in bed unable to sleep I found a meditation on loving kindness on Youtube, all bells and drums and chanting Tibetans. I donned headphones turned up the volume and closed my eyes and played it on repeat, over and over again until eventually I drifted off. I continued the same practice night after night and found that it helped, I could sleep, the dreams though still there softened.

In time I left London & home to travel, heading far away felt like the best medicine, different faces & places, a different headspace. Now it has to be said that I was lucky, a man with first world problems, I had the money & the time to travel, that choice is just not there for so many people, but still for all my advantages my head really wasn’t entirely free of depression. I was clear though that my perceptions and thoughts were just that, my shit, nobody elses. I started Yoga classes, I started meeting people and that really helped, being by a beach in Goa for months at a time helped even more. I began to get up early each morning and head to the beach & walk along the shoreline and watch the sunrise. This had a really powerful effect, along with the sunrise it began to dawn on me that my personal feelings were really no more or less than that, whatever my feelings the sun would rise, the waves would crash on the shore. I grew to love those walks.

A little later a friend from Yoga gave me a copy of a playlist, one track blew me away the first time I heard it and even now years later it sings to me.

The thing was it was about me, a karma battered bloke, all be it self inflicted, definitely exhausted by his own neurotic thoughts, none of which really ultimately mattered or were indeed real at all. It sang to me about a world that was a place of wave battered shores, but those same shores were amongst the most wonderful places to find oneself, to walk and observe and soak my skin in.
What crystallised for me was that the world is never still, sometimes our own perception imagines it thus or wishes it so, a reliable world with certainties and clear pathways with ultimate destinations, but instead it is a thing of whirling turbulence, where change is constant and however hard you try and whatever you may do life will show you another way, constantly changing, always moving us, our one and only gift if we are able to grasp it is the mind to make ourselves free in our world.

I wrote down the text of the track and then found a guy to engrave the words onto a singing bowl, I gave it to the friend who sent me the track as a way of saying thankyou.

I still have patches, where my weaknesses mean that I am not quite the man I could be, there are the doubts, there is still sometimes darkness, but whatever life brings I know one thing for sure, how I decide to see the world and my place in it is mine to choose, and that makes all the difference.

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