Thoughts and Feelings

Distraction Immersion

Red Cloud Headach Following Man IllustrationI am trying to distract myself from how I really feel (and the emotional tornado that always seems to be following me) by immersing myself in work.

The work in question is a web development/ programming project which has been a pet project and passion of mine since 1997. The project is a knowledge sharing website, full of links to content from a wide range of providers, covering a diverse range of subjects from arts & culture, to parenting, technology, food, humanities, politics, TV, health,mental health and much more. It is still a work in progress but the website, razaweb.com, can be found here.

The more advanced the functionality of the website needs to be the more complex the level of programming needed. This is good as it means I need to immerse myself even more in the work and lose myself completely to the joys and confusion of programming logic and the problem solving that is at the core of computer programming. Why am I trying to distract myself from how I truly feel? I feel terrible, that’s why. I wasn’t going to renew this blog as I don’t really have the time or money to keep it going, but when I clicked the link to the admin page to cancel it I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I need this blog. I need this space as an outlet for some of the thoughts and feelings swirling around my perpetually conflicted and angst ridden mind. I filter as much of what I am thinking and feeling and only let a little bit of it onto this digital canvas yet even that tiny amount of pressure release is helpful. You can;t bury your pain forever and you can’t run away from your feelings forever. They always catch up with you, when you least expect it.

The more I try to disentangle the web of my conflicted, unconscious, inner turmoil the worse it makes me feel consciously.

That dark and painful feeling of complete vulnerability, the feeling my 5 month old baby daughter must be feeling when she starts screaming in the middle of the night as if it’s the end of the world, is too unbearable to endure. I worry that if I let it out, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and utter despair will completely overwhelm me and consume me forever. So I work hard to bury the feelings, push them back as soon as I see them starting to enter the concious world. Immersing myself in my favourite TV shows or the world of fiction, or in a work project I truly feel passionate about is usually the only way I can truly suppress the dark feelings of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a dangerous thing to feel. it leads to despair, fear, anger, rage, irrational aggression and when mistakes are made by acting on this irrational wave of negative emotions, you’re left with guilt and regret over what you have done, controlled by confused feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear and anger.

I understand all this know better than ever. Years of talk therapy and being married to a highly talented psychologist have given me the tools to understand how the human mind works in a more sophisticated way than I ever had before. It also helps me understand my father, a man far more negative, aggressive, angry, vulnerable and lost than I am or will hopefully ever be.

My father. The Darth Vader of my life, The man full of sensitivity and love yet so violent, abusive and angry at the same time. The Jekyll and Hyde character who can turn from angel to monster in a flash. He is the reason I am starting to spiral into a self destructive descent into overwhelming anxiety, fear, anger and depression. I need to stop the spiralling descent he triggered, by grabbing hold onto something, anything, that stops me falling and helps me climb back out of the pit of despair.

I had to make a choice yesterday. A choice between satisfying his ever demanding feelings of neediness or looking after my wife and baby daughter. Its not an easy choice to make. None of the choices in my life seem to be easy at the moment. They are all what I call bad choices. Yes I should feel empowered enough as an individual adult to have choices in life, but you can’t help feeling helpless and low when all the choices seem like bad ones. Clear our increasingly large mountain of financial debt by selling our house and having nowhere to move to or keep the house near the good schools and nice neighbours but let the debt mount up? Do I focus on my work at the expense of looking after my wife, kids, parents and home? Do I work or go to the gym, given that my weight is going up again and my asthma and IBS-D are getting worse, but I’m falling behind on my work. Do I anger and upset my already emotionally fragile and depressed father or upset my physically exhausted and anxious wife who is trying to hide her own insecurity about our precarious financial position and problems? Do compose this blog post and try to let out some of how i feel or do I instead just bury the dark feelings eating me up inside and just focus on work, exercise, household chores and put on a fake smile as the guilt, anxiety and pain swirl around inside me?These are but a few of the riddles that I feel too exhausted to unravel. Every choice we make has a price and I’m tired of having to pay so much all the time.

I won’t get into details but the point is that whenever I try to ignore the tornado of drama and emotions in my life, from other people and external circumstances, when I try to be focussed on just completing my web development projects, courses and getting a much needed job, the tornado seems to swirl harder and catch me unawares, pulling me into the vortex of complex, heart wrenching turmoil.

My father was already deeply depressed, having been verbally abused by my mother and fallen out with my sister, He is really old and getting physically weaker all the time. I love him and feel sorry for him all the time, I am the only person in his life who doesn’t throw all his aggression and abuse back at him, I just take it all, all the mocking, all the character assassination, all his rants and negativity, I take it, absorb it, and I listen to him. I am respectful and loving to him, yet he still thinks no one cares about him and no one loves him, because that’s what depression does to you. It destroys your ability to be rational, cool and calm and see anything in a positive light. It skews everything around you, making the world seem nothing but negative and out to get you. A dark and scary place, full of threats and danger.

I’m not out to get my father. I want to always be there for him. Yet I can”t always be there for him and for my wife, my kids, my health and my career. How to balance all the spinning plates in my life and not let one fall and crack apart? Suffice to say that I made the choice of letting my wife get some much needed rest and focusing on my career (for the 1st time in a long time) but it was at the expense of seeing my father and he did not take it well. He is refusing to talk to me and it will just be added to the pile of negativity and hate he feels about life and all the people in his life. I wasn’t rude to him or offensive. I just told my sister that my wife and baby daughter were sleeping so yesterday afternoon was not a good time to visit with my parents, especially as they had not told me they were coming and my wife had been awake with baby all night.

What is a really small irrelevant event in most people’s lives has become a much bigger drama because of him and his powerful negativity. He has the ability to whip up a storm of negativity out of nothing.  I call it the depression mist. He spreads negativity, despair, discord and turmoil wherever he goes. It creates horrible situations that confirm his worst thoughts about how the world is a dark and nasty place. It also destroys peoples lives and exhausts even the most emotionally secure of people. He unconsciously creates situations that push people away from him, to reinforce his twisted view that everyone hates him, because he is unlovable, all because his iron-willed mother was abusive to him and didn’t give him the unconditional love a mother is supposed to shower on her child. Yet he has not pushed me away. It is ironic, and a source of major conflict within me, that my father is the source of all my inner fear, vulnerability, insecurity, anxiety, anger, rage, self-hate, self-loathing and pain, yet he is also the source of all my humanity, sensitivity and love. He is very sensitive, which is how he gets hurt so easily and often, even though people are not trying to hurt him. Sensitivity combined with overwhelming vulnerability, fear, emotional insecurity and aggression is not a good combination. Every time my phone rings and it my parent’s calling I tense up with fear as I assume it’s my mother calling to tell my my father has died and that he hung himself. That fear drove me to sacrifice much of my own needs to always be there for him, to gratify his fragile ego, to be kind to him when others stood up against his aggression. Yet all that sacrifice on my part has been a heavy price to pay.

I am not as emotionally secure as I need to be.

I am trying not to be consumed by feelings of utter guilt, regret and anxiIllustration of man flying out of a tornadoety for having unintentionally upset my old, vulnerable, angel/monster father, by immersing myself in my work. It’s something I haven’t been able to do for years, yet the more I get into my project the more immersed I feel in it and the bigger distraction it becomes, from the emotional turmoil within me and outside of me.

Having this blog helps channel some of that turmoil out into the cyber-sphere, and that’s a good thing as buying it all deep inside me will just eat me up inside. I’m glad I didn’t cancel this blog. I hope I can compose and post some more positive and more eloquently written posts in the future.

For know I just leave you with this thought, Don’t let the people around you bring you down.

 

Nightmare Under The Garden

Last night I had a strange dream.

I was in my garden at night, taking to my next door neighbour. I noticed a headstone in the corner of my garden. It was a brand new, clean, light grey stone, without any markings on it. A blank headstone. For some reason I was holding a shovel. I asked my neighbour if he knew anything about the sudden appearance of this worrying addition to my garden? He had no idea how it got there. He suggested I start digging to see what was under it. I started digging and after a short while a large hole appeared in front of the headstone.

Thing One and Thing Two

There was a large open bunker under my garden. I had dug into it. There were lots of strange people in there buzzing around and smiling wickedly. They looked like Thing one and Thing two from the Cat in the Hat children’s books by Dr. Seuss. They had orange jump suits on and were all pointing at me as they rushed around the bunker under my garden. They also seemed to be taking orders from someone else. Someone with a long dark shadow.

All I could see was the shadow, not the leader himself. The strange orange-suited creatures started shouting at me to “Jump! Jump!”. They wanted me to join them in the bunker. I could feel a chill running down my spine. I heard a familiar voice trying to call me from within the bunker, being drowned out by the horrid squealing creatures. It sounded like my father’s voice. He is turning 80 next Tuesday and I am paranoid that he is going to die soon. He’s pretty depressed and keeps talking about just wanting to die, but I have always wanted to be the one to save him. To try and give him back the desire to live and embrace life. I have always had a real Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker thing with my dad, with me trying to save him from himself. Was his voice asking me for help or was he the Dark Leader? Who knows.

It was dark outside and I knew there was some form of powerful evil down there, in the bunker under my garden. I didn’t want to go down there. I felt a force trying to pull me down into it. I shouted to my neighbour to help me. He ran and got some strong rope and threw it to me. I grabbed the rope and held on for dear life as he pulled me away form the hole in my garden by the headstone. The stronger he pulled the rope to save me the stronger the dark forces in the bunker pulled at me. I closed my eyes and used all my power to pull away form the darkness. I gathered all my energy and made one big jump away form the hole. I felt my face smash into the cold hard ground. I blanked out.

When I came to, I was in my hallway. There was a knock at the floor. All I could see was a tall, black shadow again. I checked that the chain was on the door. I franticly searched for my house keys to check that the locks had been activated. I saw visions of criminals with killer eyes at my door, desperate to get in and commit some sort of horror. I was full of anxiety and fear as I turned the key in the door lock to make sure the door stayed closed. the people outside started pushing at my front door. They were eager to get in. Something dark wanted to grab hold of me.

I heard the clock radio turn on. the music playing was the Calvin Harris Remix of Spectrum (Say My Name) by Florence and The Machine. I love that song and it empowered me enough to get out of bed.

What was that dream all about. It was some form of nightmare, playing on my real fear of burglars and having the safety of my home invaded. It felt like one of the Doctor Who serials I have been watching every day for the last few months. Strange alien creatures in an underground lair. Like Doctor Who and The Silurians (a great serial from season 7, Jon Pertwee’s 1st Season as the Doctor).

I had thought dreams were meant to be full of our unconscious desires, in order to keep us sleeping to keep enjoying the things we get to experience in dream-world but are denied us in the real world. This is because we need sleep to re-energise our bodies and mind, and dreams force us to take the time to switch off to allow the body to do its work. It’s sort of like defragmenting the hard drive of a computer, something we never bother to do until its too late. If we had our desires fulfilled every time we defragged a PC we would do it every night! Yet I have no desire to be sucked into a world of death and evil or attacked by burglars. Sure a lot of the unconscious fears and insecurities we bury deep inside our psyche come out in dreams. This just felt so powerful. I need to get round to reading The Interpretations of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.

I didn’t help that I have been fallen ill with an increasingly worsening cold that feels like it is a physical manifestation of how I feel psychologically/ mentally. I feel exhausted, burnt out, battered. I am not coping well with the fall-out from my sister’s decision to exclude me and the family from her wedding. From losing what I thought was a really close relationship, and had been at one time, for a long time. From realising that I have lost and am losing everything I used to rely on to keep me going in this harsh, cold, unjust world.

I wanted to sleep for longer to try and give my body more energy to fight the cold. My nightmare prevented that. Ironically sleep is one of the few things I still have that I can rely on to help me get through life. I also have blogging. Typing out my thoughts into this blog post has really helped. Blogging is really therapeutic for me. I am starting to get on board with the whole Blogging for Mental Health 2014 thing.

Anyway, on a positive note, no matter how bad real life gets, at least when I looked out into my garden there was no blank headstone and empty grave waiting to be filled.

Piercing the Bubble

My wife just pierced my bubble.

With just 2 words I’ve been forced to face the cold, hard truth of what lies outside all the bubbles we create to shelter us.

The bubble in question is a world full of strange symbols and programming code.

I am currently teaching myself back-end web development, specifically PHP & MySQL, and building a private social network to practise and hone the new skills I am learning. The more I get into programming and working with code and databases, the more I love it. I loved building IT solutions for business problems during my career as a finance analyst. I much preferred building the tools that would automate analysis to actually presenting what that analysis meant to high powered corporate directors. I’m a geek at heart. The great thing about all things geek is you can lose yourself in another world, cut off from everything going on around you, as you focus on trying to solve the problem at hand. The book I’m currently working through is great at explaining complex concepts, but does have one too many errors, but that actually helps force me to understand what I am learning and doing. Time flies as I lock myself away from the real world in my office cum study, immersed in code, concepts alien to people outside of programming and constant browser refreshes to check my progress.

It’s often hard to stay focussed and not get distracted at home, where I’m learning my exciting new skills, but today was turning out to be a very productive day. Until the bubble burst.

Lots of distracting thoughts constantly float about in my head, from suppressed emotional distresses we all bury deep to just keep going, to more mundane, yet just as important musings about how I would fix the increasing multitude of broken household objects falling apart around me. Add to that my perpetual analysis of what all the cultural matter I consume means, and you can understand that trying to keep a lid on distracting thoughts and focus like a laser on coding isn’t always easy.

I’ve been told that the very act of burying (and trying to bury) all these unprocessed thoughts and feelings actually makes it harder to remain focussed later on, probably because they will all still vie for attention until they are heard, like all the hyperactive children at my daughter’s 5th birthday party who were desperate to show me how great each of their magic fairy wands was (it was an art party, hosted by a professional artist/ party entertainer).

Old habits die hard though, and I come from an ethnic/ cultural background where you lock away what you think and feel to present an image society expects of you. Less talk, more action. Yet action is hard when you’re brain is fried from too many thoughts that need to be freed. The bubble of my study, full of programming books and technology to help keep my focus, sometimes needs to have all the air and thoughts inside it let out. That is why I started this blog, probably my 5th blog, maybe 6th? I have a lot going on in my life and in my head. I feel the need to let it out. I thought a blog would help out. Writing is a great outlet (i didn’t use the word creativity as I’m not as creative as I’d love to be!)

Yet I digress. The point was that for all that was going on in my head previously, i had been focussing on my work, until my wife told me the news.

I was angry at her for neglecting a lot of housework I had ended up doing, when i should have been working, and I went downstairs to make my tea in a grump. Its not her fault, she’s overworked, and the greatest wife anyone could have, especially me.

I asked her how she was and she said OK, and she seem OK, bar the fact she was distracted making dinner for guests who were visiting her and my daughter for a play date. My wife was grating lots of cheese on the four cheese pizza I ordered for the play date. She seemed a bit lost. I stirred the watery rice milk into my tea, making sure every molecule breaks down as i do (i stir for a long time, it helps me process thoughts).

I tried to break the tension, and stop being such a child with my grump, so I asked her how her day was. She said OK, except, then she paused. She looked at me and told me she had seen our next door neighbour, a friendly, gentle giant British-Italian man who runs his own business and whose website I am building.

“Rachel’s.”

That’s all she said.

In that microsecond I knew exactly what she meant. yet I started thinking about the programming code I had been writing, so that I could distract my thoughts, and stop them growing into feelings. feelings I don’t want to experience. Intellectually I know that feelings must be allowed to do their work. To be set free and not suppressed. It may hurt, but taking the pain now, pain that will wash away, is better than storing it up and creating a monster of distorted pain within us. Yet old habits die hard, as I mentioned above. Even now, it’s easier to waffle on rather than type the simple fact. Rachel is dead.

Rachel was a neighbour who was friends with our next door neighbours. Her husband was British-Italian like my neighbour and they were friends. Rachel had 2 young children and we would bump into them all in the local park, which is a beacon of face to face community spirit in this age of cyber-relationships. She was always friendly and my wife, herself the queen of friendliness, would chat to Rachel often. Rachel’s life hadn’t been easy for the past few years.

She had been diagnosed with cancer, more specifically leukaemia, a few years ago. She had lots of painful treatment, and pulled through. Then she separated from her husband after a lot of issues came to the fore,and the separation was pretty acrimonious. She is originally from Australia and her family live there, so it must have been hard to suffer all she did without family support around the corner.

I found all of the above every sad. Yet that was not the end of it. Rachel’s husband, now separated form her, had been on a major weight-loss regime. I can;’t verify the exact details, but he had lost a tremendous amount of weight very quickly. He was on a date with someone else when he collapsed and died from a heart attack, suddenly. For his 2 young kids, aorudn my daughter’s age, to lose their dad, and so suddenly, out of nowhere, having suffered their mother’s cancer and their parents separation, that must have been traumatic. That was over a year ago.

Rachel had made it past the cancer first time round, but it came back. She underwent more treatment, and although the prognosis was apparently not great, we all hoped she would pull through. I saw her a few times in the local supermarket and park and she gave me the big friendly smile I found empowering. Even with everything she had been through she still carried on with life and pushed through with a smile.

My wife and I talked a lot about how sad it all was and what would happen to her kids if she died. We just assumed she’s make it. How much bad luck can those kids be dished out? I’m not a superstitious man nor do I believe in any supernatural forces controlling destiny or lives. yet I am human and I bend logic when i need to, to help me cope with a world full of cold, hard, painful truths. So when my wife mentioned her name, just 2 words, “It’s Rachel” my heart sank. I was about to burst out crying.

I didn’t know Rachel particularly well, yet I remember her spirit and that smile. And my thoughts immediately focus on her 2 children, both pre-teens. How does one process such a thing? We live very sheltered  lives here in the UK and modern western nations (at least a lot of us do, many people aren’t so lucky even in the communities around us). I’ve seen my fair share of trauma, but I block it all out and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by enough false reality and middle-class wealth to create a bubble in which missing an episode of Community is the worst thing to happen to me in a day.

Now the bubble is burst. If I think about it, the sudden death of Rachel, who was doing better with her treatment until 2 days ago when she suddenly went downhill very quickly., is too much to process. I just want to let it all out. Yet I can’t. I’ve got good at holding back the tears and suppressing the emotions, I’m a real expert at it. When my beloved father-in-law (one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life) died a few years back, i noted how little I cried at his funeral. I felt immense grief. I know I did. yet I’ve programmed myself, the first application I built, to push down those feelings of grief, and stand aloof, like some emotionless android. Yet I’m not an android. I’m a very sensitive individual, who can’t believe what his wife just told him. It makes everything else going on around me seem so irrelevant.

I had been shocked and saddened by the sudden death of my favourite actor, James Gandolfini, someone who touched my life in that strange way an actor you’ve never met does. I think about Nelson Mandela and all the good that he stands for, and how inspirational he is, and how he will leave a gigantic hole when he dies, as news reports abound about his worsening ill health. Death is all around us, an everyday fact and occurrence, but it actually rarely pops up and confronts me. Especially in such distressing circumstances.

My daughter plays with her friend in the room next door as if nothing traumatic has happened. She has no idea. Her bubble is still floating. God knows how Rachel’s children are coping. I can’t even bear thinking about it.