Mentally Ill / ActivistPosted: October 24, 2013
For the majority of my life I have been one of those strange and otherworldly people who struggle to adapt to the nature of reality. I have laughed through the maelstrom and shuddered as I cut my own veins to achieve some calm. I am ‘mentally ill’.
For the majority of my life I have looked out at the world around me and felt disgust at the way we have created systems of oppression seemingly designed to twist peoples perceptions of the truth. Whether active or raging all alone I am an activist.
My first real taste of what it was to be mentally ill came with the stress of my A levels and the sudden crushing moment when my body said enough and of a sudden I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything but suffer pain within my body and a spiraling out of control vortex that sucked me away from my family and down to a place where every ache portended the worst of diseases. I suffered from malaria, hebephrenia, kidney failure and meningitis – especially meningitis as the stress headaches and the muscular tautness caused me constant pain. I could hold a coin upright between the protuberant double tendons of my wrist, when relaxed. I was physically and mentally collapsing and my parents could only watch.
My first real taste of activism came when as a child the Woodcraft Folk (or hippy scouts as others chose to call them) took me an others on a march through London to highlight the killing of animals around the world that were being made extinct by human ‘progress’. We dressed as animals, I was a lynx, my friend a bear. Someone was a black rhino, the black rhino’s are all dead now.
In the following years I discovered mania. I ran wild across Bristol chasing dragons that consumed the earth and basked in the stench of the grass that they spewed behind them. I did chin ups where my muscles never could before. I delighted in breathing – the feelings of ecstasy brought about by breathing and nothing more. I read and read, partied, danced and smoked a lot of resin. A lot of resin to keep my feet on the earth and my head in the books. When the bong was not enough I cut my flesh and lied to my friends. They must have thought we had a lot of accidents in my lab.
In the following years I joined Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, CND. I wrote letters and marched and shouted beautiful dreams. I spoke to survivors of Nagasaki who told me that the nuclear blast that killed their world was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. They stood transfixed as the sky was filled with every colour and even colours they could not name. They were the ones behind hills, behind concrete or steel. They were the ones who survived the death of everything and the sickness that followed. The survivors of Nagasaki are all dead now. We staged a die in whilst St Martins chimed thirteen. Not even Google remembers this now.
I got a job, got married, to a good woman whose own mental illness meant she hardly left the house. There was so much to do just earning enough to survive. Each day she’d do the laundry in the bathtub – we couldn’t afford a washing machine. Each night she’d put me back together, hugging me as I shook and feared to face a boss whose stature had grown to that of a firey giant. Many years later, when we were almost equals, he said to me that he deliberately humiliated staff – it was a good way to teach them not to do a thing again. I didn’t pity hum after that, there was only hate.
I got a job, got married, to a good woman who’s own mental illness meant there was no time for activism any more. There was only time for work and indignation at the state of society – time for reaction but not for action. As the years passed things became a little easier but never easy enough.
My first wife died and stayed alive. When the blood first started to pool in her brain and the pressure twisted it out of shape she shit herself and could no longer speak except with random words. She came to the bedroom and tried to let me know but I didn’t understand and went back to sleep. I will carry that guilt until I die, and so I should. Ten minutes later she was more insistent and ten minutes after that it was blues and toos racing for the hospital. Three days she was in and out of consciousness whilst I never slept or left her bed. I would not allow her to awake confused and alone in that place. Three days with my mind in a place stranger than any I’d seen where all I remember is her face and the most caring Irish nurse and apologizing to God for still not believing in him but asking, promising, anything if she lived. Three days and then for the first time in my adult life I cried. I could not stop, I sobbed my mind collapsed in upon itself but still I wouldn’t leave her until my mother swore to stay the night beside the bed and then I went and found oblivion. Neither of us was the same after that and I never cried again or talked so openly about my feelings. After a time our marriage was dead but I found solace with the homeless of London who taught me ‘there but for the grace of god’ and ‘every human has their worth’.
My first wife died and stayed alive. A stroke in her early thirties and partial paralysis. She showed her strength, the strength of her activist past when she’d been local secretary of the Welsh language society and had gone out nights to fight for her countries freedom. It took a long long time but she won it all back – the mobility, the speech, the fire. No, she never lost the fire. She was no longer her; we agreed her personality had changed and that we no longer loved and so we went our ways. She’s with another man now and I like him. They have children and I wish them everything. My activism started to stir in that time and I gave my Christmases to Crisis and spent them with the homeless of London. They taught me so much more than I helped them.
I met a woman and I loved her with all my being. I loved her more than she loved me but that was of no consequence. I should not have loved her because my mind was black and twisted but that love enabled me to spy the light glinting through the tangled steel that filled me. We lost each other on the climb out but I would not have made it without her.
I met a woman who taught me to live again. She suffered much as me but as with all these things her pain was different. I threw out all the accumulated rubbish of a lifetime. I smashed my marital bed into smithereens and slept on the floor, I took up running, boxing and basketball. She buoyed me, travelled Europe and watched me run marathons. She watched the activist within me start to uncurl, start to bitch and complain about the world but not yet understand that maybe it could change things, maybe it could act. Complaint without action killed what love we had but I will always treasure the seed she planted that later began to grow.
I promised myself to live alone. I threw myself into art and alcohol. I burned with the fires of creation and bled into the darkness of nothing. I lived behind a camera lens because the world was shielded from me by its abstraction and all the anger and pain I saw were reduced to pictures on a screen. I doused my fire in computer games, art and writing – anything that took me away from me and doused the flames that flicked about my fingers. I met a woman. An amazing woman that burned like a thermal lance, organising, campaigning, cutting through the armour of oppression like the most beautiful blast in history. I stood close to her and where she needed support I gave it. I held her up and basked in her causes even as my skin began to bubble and my brain began to boil.
I promised myself to live alone. I joined the old organisations, I went to protest marches – this time with Camera at the ready. The Mothers March on Parliament, the War in Iraq. I listened to Tony Benn and groaned as ancient lefties called each other comrade and wondered where the youth had gone. I met a woman. An amazing woman from my past who was a thousand times the activist I had ever dreamed of being. Her disabilities, physical, mental, they did not seem to slow her down and aside from that I felt my soul meet hers and never want to leave. I learned from her, I exalted in the discovery that causes could be won and that fights worth fighting were not always doomed. Not always.
I live with a searing angel. I live with a fragile human determined to make change for the better. I revel in the activism, standing tall against the EDL, Pro-lifers, the ableism and sexism inherent in our culture. I revel in the feeling of action even as every antagonistic interaction feeds the mania or depression within me and threatens to trip me back down the slope and into hell. I cannot live in such an unfair world and need to fight to make it better. I cannot live in such an unfair world.
My life contains measures of activism and mental illness. Both must be there for me to survive but in concert both threaten to destroy me.
I am learning to walk a middle path and my step still feels very shakey.