Cure begun at last

I’ll spare you too many details; I hope I still haven’t turned into the kind of patient who can only talk about his disease, but who’ll expatiate on that whenever given the slightest excuse for doing so. Neither do I see a point in turning this into a sort of “My fight with cancer” blog.

Suffice it to say that on Wednesday they inserted the PEG tube into my stomach, which wasn’t half as bad as I was afraid it would be (although getting used to it will take some time yet), and on Thursday and Friday I finally underwent my first two radiotherapy sessions (the mask still troubling me, but I guess in time I’ll get used to it as well). Also, my hospital roommates are apparently more bearable than the previous lot (in fact, probably more bearable than my neighbours), so there’s little to complain about.

That said, exhausting it is. Both the diagnostics and the curing tire one more than living with the tumour did. (And my parents are plaguing me with questions, while Tommy ignores me completely.) Then again, if I end up cured, it would be worth a lot of temporary inconvenience. Even though I’ve got precious little to look forward to in the future anyway.

 

Bannie Day ’16: air ais a mhanachainn

Bha mi ag iarraidh gun bhòtadh na Breatannaich airson ‘Fhàgail’ agus rinn iad sin. As dèidh a’ chiad aoibhneis, thàinig e a-steach orm gun do dh’atharraich sin an suidheachadh anns a tha mi fhìn gu tur. Jusque-là, il y a eu de l’espoir, dè cho beag agus a bha e. It is virtually zero now. Mar sin dheth, je dois recontempler tout.

Cathair-eaglais Dhùn Chailleann thall Uisge Tatha (bho Cheum-choise an Inbhir).


Well, tant qu’il y a de la vie, il y a de l’espoir. La réincarnation, mar eisimpleir. Ach tha an sgeulachd seo a’ tighinn gu crìoch. Tha mi airson ga crìochnachadh mar bu chòir – agus an ìre mhath nam aonar. For the seagulls they have gone. Ge-tà, faodaidh fiù is foghar a bhith tlachdmhor, un petit peu.

Om.

 

Why I exiled myself

(It’s been almost a year since I left my country and came back here. Probably the right time to put down why: long enough to view the matter dispassionately, not long enough for the memory to be much distorted. This will probably be a long rant, so you’d better not read it; in fact I’m writing it precisely to be able to look it up myself when my memories do, inevitably, become too distorted.)

The short, technical, superficial answer is that I was afraid of ending up on the street, then – not being a citizen – getting deported, thus ending up in exile anyway, but potentially also barred from a future entry. I’m not a lawyer: maybe this wouldn’t happen, but it was this fear I acted upon. Nevertheless, this doesn’t answer why I got into such situation in the first place.

It would be easy to blame everything on alcohol. But alcohol is always a secondary problem, a symptom of deeper troubles. Still, it’s often a highly exacerbating symptom, and this time a trigger as well. Several things had been wrong for quite some time, but the breaking point was probably when before that year’s last spell in my then job, for some reason I could never really recollect (I’d been looking forward to that spell for fuck’s sake), I got drunk and didn’t attend. Since then I stopped boozing several times, but sooner or later the vicious circle of depression and anxiety attacks alternating with being drunk always started anew.

So what made me drink? I think that paradoxically I was having it both too good and too bad. On the good side was the amazement of being in the country of my heart, in a ‘secure tenancy’ flat in an attractive area, the complacency of having already been there for more than half the time needed to be able to apply for citizenship, and the – for me – large sum I’d received the previous year, some of which money I still had at the beginning. My cup was flowing over . . . or so it seemed, now and then. A dram or a pint was the icing on the cake. (Of course, you can spoil a cake by too much icing.)

But under the surface, the bad things were fermenting. I may have been nearing citizenship, but I was getting impatient; the waiting seemed too long. And a sort of midlife-crisis question kept returning: Fine, so you’ll become a citizen, change your name to something you could like, and then what? Any goals after that? To which the sincere answer was No, I can’t think of any. Also, it was getting harder to fool myself into thinking I might ever really belong. Thanks to my social phobia and linguistic inadequacy, after three years I only had one friend there – and I felt I was insidiously losing even him. All of which was compounding my thanatophobia; as if it hadn’t been bad enough even before all this.

Then again, the flat which had so amazed me to begin with and where I’d done so many improvements was feeling less and less like a home. Not for the first (or the last) time in my life, a neighbour upstairs was noisy in the way which isn’t bad enough to entitle you to complaining, but which is bad enough – supposing you’re hypersensitive to noise – to prevent you from sleeping, reading and so forth. (I often sat in the kitchen simply because it was the quietest of my rooms.) A place isn’t really a home when you prefer leaving it to returning to it. A place isn’t really a home when your mind doesn’t associate it with rest, but with worrying about when the noise which won’t let you rest will begin.

And then of course, these things were interrelated, influencing and aggravating each other. Being jobless, I was meeting even less people than usual (hardly anybody in fact), making me more lonely. The noise was making it easier to decide to have another fag and another doze of booze. Not seeing the flat as a home where I’d like to live for the rest of my days, nor seeing any way of changing my situation (after three years I was disabused of the idea of getting anything better than another temporary zero-hours contract), made the future look even bleaker and more pointless. And so on and so on.

If you combine all this: booze, unemployment, no long-term future goal, the paradoxical complacency, thanatophobia, a noisy neighbour, no friend to see regularly . . . maybe it’s little wonder I became too lonely even by my standards and mentally/emotionally burnt out. There were some half-hearted attempts at finding a new job, some more determined visits to the JobCentre, but my heart wasn’t really in it. They were just token, perfunctory activities to salve my conscience before sitting down in my kitchen with a book, fags and booze once again. (Strangely perhaps, my depressions didn’t make me consider suicide. My suicidal thoughts were of a defiant character: often I sat there, pleasantly pished, and thought Ah, what the fuck, if the worst comes to the worst I can always comit a suicide.)

Until the money ran out. Then, as usual, the instict of self-preservation kicked in. And in the state I was in, after some six months of intermittent boozing, to borrow some money and return here, in other words to exile myself, looked like the only feasible option. So I executed it.

Come to think of it, I suspect that the instict of self-preservation is what’s been keeping me going ever since. But that’s already a different story.

 

A handful of people

There’d been no contact between Lùc and me for over a year, so the other day I deleted his email address from my Thunderbird address book. And I realised there’s only a handful of people left to me.

There are many I still enjoy reminiscing about. There are many I lost touch with long ago. There are many about whose present lives I might like to hear. Nevertheless, for various reasons I’d rather not reconnect with them; I certainly wouldn’t be interested in meeting most of them.

There’s only a handful of people I really care about left, and fewer whom I’d really prefer to sit with and talk to to sitting here alone at my laptop: Jamie, Falcon, Rob and Tommy. Maybe Ziggy and Köln.

An old, sad, burnt-out sod. And I’m not even fufty yet . . .

 

Kris Kristofferson at 79

I had on this iPlayer programme from The Chieftains’ Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall thinking “no bad” when . . .

You see, for me Kris Kristofferson was always the independent, sensitive-yet-tough 30- or 40-something who’s written Help Me Make It Through the Night, For the Good Times, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Stallion, Rocket to Stardom and so on, the hero of Convoy and Flashpoint, the guy who claimed he’d like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire put on his tombstone . . .

Now I saw him come and . . . first there was a close-up on the gentle wizened face and then he began singing that particular song in such a mild, kindly way . . . I later found out in he’s actually older than my father, but for a while there I almost felt like it was me who was approaching 80, and – presumably unlike him – just sitting in some care home, patiently waiting for the end . . .

I did manage to supress the tears coming in my eyes, but only just.

 

47

Only I feel more like 74, in the sense that there is no longer any ‘big’ goal to achieve. All that’s left is the intent to make what’s left of my life at least tolerably pleasant.

Ah well, at least it finally rained yesterday. (I know this summer wasn’t exactly ideal in the Isles, but I would honestly prefer that to the two subsequent heat waves, each lasting weeks, in this fucking central European climate.) And by posting this I’ll have achieved my holiday ‘little big’ goal of managing my bookmark backlog and updating this blog.

 

Legs on theirs last legs?

I hope not. I definitely can’t run fifty meters without getting out of breath; I probably could no longer walk over nine miles under two hours as I did in my twenties; now and then somebody younger overtakes me on the pavement; I still find no problem in ‘commuting’ on feet and rarely use municipal public transport. I relish both sauntering and striding.

Understandably, it’s unsettling for somebody like me to develop footdrop, which later extends to one’s other foot, and only starts improving to be superseded by more frequent nocturnal leg cramps. (Even occasional diurnal ones, just sitting on a chair, something I don’t remember having experienced before.)

Where there’s life there’s hope though; I must be glad I no longer (except when returning from work in those steel-toed safety shoes) stump like Donald Duck, and hope against hope the cramps will go away (pun unintentional) by themselves like the foot drop did.

 

Cuimhne circe

San t-seòmar-ionnlaid (aon airson nan seòmraichean-cadail uile air an ùrlar) san ostail, tha amaran aig an dàrna balla agus frasairean aig a’ bhalla eile – agus aon amar ìosal. Leis gu bheil craiceann mo chorragan-coise cruaidh fhathast, thòisich mi air am nighe gach madainn ’s gach oidhche. So far, so good.

Ach, thachair e dà thuras mu thràth gun do nigh mi m’ fhiaclan, nigh mi mo chasan . . . agus dh’fhàg mi an seòmar-ionnlaid leis a’ bhruis-fhiaclan agus an deud, na fiaclan fuadain agam fhathast air amar aig a’ bhalla eile. Agus cha do chuimhnich mi mum dheidhinn na h-uairean.

Tha fhios nach do ghoid duine an deud. Ge-tà . . . thathar ag ràdh dha daoine dìochuimhneach gun dìochuimnich iad an ceann aon latha. Uill, bidh mise a’ dìomchuimhneachadh pàirt dheth mar tha. Nach mise a tha a’ faghinn nam bhreòlaid . . .

 

Solar eclipse

The BBC claimed that Glasgow would have a 94% one. I had a look every now and then from my windows, which face the west, and to be honest, hadn’t I known about the phenomenon, I’d never notice it. It didn’t even look like dusk; it looked like it does when in winter the sky gets very cloudy and then clears again.

(Another eclipse were the letters I received from the JCP and the GCC. These quite possibly mean that my inability to cope with this world on my own has at last beat me for good and I’m eventually a goner. But that’s a different story.)

 

Ahead of NHS

When on 3rd of the month I referred myself for counselling, they offered me an appointment on 31st. I asked for an earlier one and did get it, although in a more distant location. Even so, in the meantime there were several morale boosters: realisation I could reapply for housing and council tax benefits, learning I could reapply for JSA, Rob’s and Tommy’s replying my emails, negative blood tests results, negative X-ray results, two phone calls from Rob . . .

Today I signed an employment contract. It’s a zero-hours one, but then I’ve never achieved any other since I came here. When I then attended the appointment with the psychiatrist, the two problems for which I had wanted the counselling, depression and anxiety, no longer deserved one. So the talk was instead mostly about my lifelong social phobia and my two- or three-year thanatophobia.

Not that I expect they would be able to do much about those.

 

While there’s life there’s hope

So on Tuesday last I was limping with suspicion of diabetes, and depressed and anxious enough for counselling. But I killed the insect in the kitchen, and it occurred to me that I might still be eligible for housing benefit. That was a morale booster indeed. Another came the very next day, when at the JCP they told me that I could reapply for JSA as well. Finding myself later on near the Cathedral I couldn’t help going in to sit and meditate there for a while.

Having found out I might still have time enough to manage to stay here, life was gradually beginning to be about more than mere physical survival. Bit by bit I was becoming interested again in the news, the city, languages and so on. I even began blogging again . . .

Sure, benefits are no remedy for loneliness and thanatophobia, and I may still fail to find a job and be forced to leave. But at least I care again. At least I’m determined to fight again.

 

Resurfacing

After a week and a half, though, the instinct of self-preservation prevailed, as it always does. I began drinking and smoking less each day, and slowly but surely putting the flat and myself in order. I wasn’t helped by some bloody insect temporarily making the kitchen a forbidden zone for me, and by my beginning, all of a sudden and for a reason unknown, to limp on my left leg. But I persevered.

Naturally, anxiety attacks at first strengthened, then began giving way. Yet I was so low that I have actually made an appointment with a shrink. Funny thing is, I am virtually looking forward to it. I’ll be able to talk to somebody.

 

Darkness

In mid-February, loneliness, joblessness and lack of motivation got the best of me and I relapsed again. Seeing no future, I was only leaving the flat to replenish my stock of booze, food and fags.

There was depression. There were anxiety attacks. There were tins eaten without being cooked. There was almost total absence of hygiene. There were appointments ignored. There were my laptop and mobile switched off all the time. As usual. However, this time there were also crazy ideas about giving in and returning to the old country: To my birthplace, where I still could be sure of a roof. To my last place there, where I still have a friend. To my old rehab, not for the sake of fighting addiction, but for the sake of having company.

I think that one day I even shed a tear or two.

After a week and a half, though, the instinct of self-preservation prevailed, as it always does.

 

Money matters

The other day I wanted to prove something to Tommy using certain old documents of mine. Instead, he proved to me that in the previous fiscal year I had paid one instalment of council tax too many. And that I had already paid all I should have for this one. The next day, I got remuneration for holidays I had been entitled to but hadn’t taken in my last job.

Two of these three revelations were of course immediately pleasing, but thinking it over all this is rather worrying. I always thought that one of my both strong and weak (depending on circumstances) traits was pedantry. It seems I’m either heading into the opposite extreme or getting senile . . .

 

2014

It was a crazy year. I’d probably have to rack my brains quite a lot before I remembered another with such steep rises and falls.

I started it with a refurbished flat – and almost lost my job. While there were outstanding floods in southwest England and troubles in Ukraine, the job was going to the dogs anyway. Ukraine lost Crimea and I lost another tooth and had to go for a denture. Then I revisited the old country, had a trip to Dumbarton with Tommy – and did lose the job.

But I tripped alone to Rouken Glen Park and with Tommy again to Dunkeld, got another job, starting in Springburn, and while Glasgow was crazy with the Commonwealth Games I spent a very fine week in Dumfries, which included a trip to Caerlaverock Castle.

After Barrhead and Chesser, which improved my understanding the local dialect, I almost lost the job, but was taken on back while what was lost was the independence referendum. Immediately after which I had four magnificent weeks in Argyll with too many splendid trips to list here. Then I did lose the job.

And it became apparent that I was also losing Tommy, while Salmond was resigning. Sturgeon superseded him, the Smith Commission published its report, but I had to sign on. And when the first Scottish gay marriages were taking place I was still unemployed and by and large Tommy-less.

I do hope 2015 will be calmer. I had some absolutely great, exciting times, but the price was too high. I’d rather had less if it meant to pay less. As the saying goes, I’m too old for this game.