INSTALMENT NO. 6 – GOODBYE, 2013

Date of writing : 31st December 2013 – about 6pm 

Unlocked not long after 8am today, which is a good thing.  Ahmed went out not long after, and absent-mindedly threw the bolt to lock me in, which is a bad thing.  I wouldn’t mind so much, but he did it yesterday as well.  This leaves me shouting round the door to passers-by to let me out.  Even after I told him about it, he still nearly managed to do it for a third time but realised just in time and unlocked again.  Absent-minded in general, he is.  Frustrated by this, I am.

I’ve got bored with maintaining a ‘front’ of fitting in with people.  Now that I’m able to socialise most of the day, it gets harder to keep up the reversion of my accent to its roots.  As I’ve mentioned before, people seem more accepting on this wing, and I’m hoping they won’t take too much exception to my sometimes obvious differences.  The fact that I sit around writing a lot seems to mark me out.  A lad from the travelling community asked where I was from today, and told me I sound ‘proper posh’ (and that’s with my attempts to revert).  He wasn’t aggressive about it though, and played several rounds of cards with me after that.  Maybe the fact that I agreed to give him five sheets of lined paper helped.  I have to be careful to walk the line between gaining a little favour and just being walked on though…

[18.30]  Well, anyway, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m behind the door now.  I’m guessing that’s where we’ll stay until morning.  The people in the cells either side of mine are talking to each other by shouting through the window vents, and there’s a bit of wall-banging going on.  That’s what counts for high spirits round here.  I have to say, I’ve had better years.  In fact, I’m sort of hoping that 2013 was the worst year of my life.  Although, as I write that, I remember many happy times too.  There were some good times before May, and despite the background looming, the last few months before I arrived here also provided some unexpectedly good experiences.

Having lost my job officially at the beginning of August, and been suspended on full pay for some weeks before that, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands.  For quite a while, I flailed around in anxiety and grief for what I was gradually realising I had lost.  In summary, that was pretty much everything; the life I knew was completely gone.  For a long time I was down to the material possessions I could fit in the boot of a small car – not that I had a car to put them in any more.  More importantly, my relationship of over 13 years had become irreparable, and I’d heavily damaged many other of my most important interpersonal connections.  I’d lost contact with those I hold most dear, and with many friends as well.  Worst of all, I had only myself to blame for all of this.  I was stripped down to my bare essentials.

Many people are never brought face-to-face with themselves in the absence of all the things they had come to regard as their identity.  To some degree or another, we all identify with the roles we play and the things that surround them; home-owner, employee, father, mother, husband, wife, driver of a particular car, respectable member of society – these are all roles we play that we can come to think of in concert as actually ‘being me’.  So if all these things disappear, then what is left?  Being faced with this situation has forced me to consider these questions.

Of course, I’m far from the first to think about the nature of ‘self’; the fact that the self does not exist is a core ‘truth’ of Buddhism.  In more recent popular philosophy, Eckhart Tolle has written about the problematic nature of our personally constructed ‘egoic self’ and its struggle to survive at all costs.  Millions of words have been written on these ideas, and my personal ponderings probably add very little to the subject.  Although I write this now in an analytical way, I’m sure you can imagine that my thought processes have been at times less than detached and coherent.  The phrase ‘nervous breakdown’ is ill-defined, but you might use it to describe what I was going through for a couple of months from the end of April this year.  I’d read a lot about the nature of self but until I was forced to face it on a personal level, I think my understanding was more academic than I was perhaps prepared to admit.  That’s something I’m certainly still working on.

Getting back to the positive, this year I have become part of a Fellowship that has helped me immensely.  I’ve met dozens of new friends through this, and we continue to support each other.  I’ve been able to explore my creativity; I’ve sold prints of my photographs, written songs, and regularly performed at local bars.  I went on a camping trip with my brother and we had some fantastic walks in the Lake District.  I’ve had support from unexpected quarters, and feel closer to my parents than ever before.  I’ve explored many places I’ve wanted to go for a long time, seen an unforgettable sunset from the top of Kinder Scout, learned how to cook a great roast dinner, and perfected a recipe for Crème Brûlée.  I’ve been able to stay out late, follow my whims, and meet some amazing people.

Now, don’t think that I’ve been living the high life swanning around oblivious whilst others continue to suffer from my past actions.  I still feel sometimes crippling grief and guilt and sadness. But to retreat into myself and hide away in depression would do nothing to help others, and much to harm myself.  Where possible, I’m making direct amends to people I’ve hurt.  Working on myself and learning to overcome my problems is part of making indirect and ongoing amends so that I can be a better person in the future.  A very good friend for many years wrote to me not so long ago, saying that you can’t always fix what you’ve broken, but you can always build something new.  To do as much as I can of both is my ongoing project.

So – goodbye 2013.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I really don’t know what 2014 will bring, but I’m expecting to spend it in prison.  Somebody I met quite recently told me that no time is time wasted; it all serves some kind of purpose.  Strange as it may seem, I think I’m beginning to believe her.

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