My Shawshank

Red: Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane

Red: [reading a note left by Andy] Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.

– Shawshank Redemption

Somebody remarked that “you must be dead excited now” with reference to my vastly approaching cycling trip through South-East Asia. The truth is far from that. I desperately want to be. I really think I ought to be and think that there is something terribly wrong with me for feeling otherwise. I am utterly confused as to why I am soon about to go what is tantamount to a “trip of a lifetime”, something that most people would be relishing with eager anticipation, yet all I feel is a deep urge to end my life. I am horribly depressed and most of my thoughts are consumed with morbidity and terror, rather than the adventure and tales I will encounter on a trip that I have worked so hard to turn from a drunken “yeah, that would be awesome” into a reality.

I think I’m terrified that when I go on the trip I will still feel like the same insufferably despairing way I do now. What terrifies me more is that I will not be able to find way back from that. For most of my latter adolescence, and all my adult life; I at times, truly believe that I have been cursed as those wretched souls in myth. A curse that couldn’t be lifted no matter how hard the bewitched valiantly fought, or conjured tricks. Despair desolately returns in and the cursed falls back down to their knees, only a little deeper. I hope that this depression will pass, but I’m prepared for the possibility that it won’t simply dissipate with the first push of the pedal. What I really hope for and really want is peace – no turbulence, no turmoil and I believe that this trip will help create that. I know my inner and my outer world are inextricably linked whatever is happening in one, will find a way to manifest itself in the other. Inner peace cannot simply be attained overnight and the journey there will require to me to heal the wounds of the past. I believe that I achieve this through, as Martin Luther King eloquently said, transforming my suffering into a creative force – not react with bitterness for a bitter man is a man without peace.

At the same time, I am fully aware that for a very long time, I have created brief outlets, adventures or experiences as a temporary reprise from depression. Things to get excited about or get lost in the moment, and when I am there, I convince myself that I have rid myself of this curse and that I will begin a new life. However, I never properly address the core issues at heart; merely create an illusion through a series of distractions that just lead me to hit an ever big wave of depression and get swallowed under all over again. like Kerouac aptly describes “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop”.

Freud describes mania as a defence against depression and these reprises from depression I create are not done solely with the intention to escape depression, but to trigger a manic high. Unfortunately for me, they are always reprises, yet still I wonder why I feel shock at despair at returning to the same old place. A manic high may feel great but it is feeling without foundation and therefore unstable and very destrucitve, existing on the verge of collapse. When it does, I end up feeling even more cursed, which leads to suicidal thoughts and feelings that get harder and harder to stave – the cycle continues.

To some extent this bike trip has been created out of the desire to break free from this current and lengthy bout of depression. That is of course no reason not to do it and I should hardly prohibit myself from a possibility of freeing myself, even if temporarily, from something that I really struggle with – it is a lot healthier way of taking care of myself than other vices I have resorted to after all. It is not helping that I am living in a big house on my own, away from the majority of my friends and not doing stuff that I am passionate about.

I love to travel, there is irrefutable evidence linking exercise with mental well being and I will be exploring my desire to write and film. However, I have now accepted that this illness will always be there and that there is neither quick fix nor series of events that can change that. Things will improve as my circumstances change by doing things I am passionate about, but that will have to go in tandem with regular treatment and support. I am slightly disheartened by the knowledge that there will be no quick fix, but this knowledge is a lot healthier than maintaining the belief that there are quick fixes and then having to pick up the pieces when the dam bursts.

I had to fill out a questionnaire that I received to day to fill in to send off to CBT prior to my evaluation to see if “psychological therapy is for you”. It asks you to rated feelings of being ‘cursed, that something is wrong with your mind, or feeling hopeless about the future’ on a scale of ‘not at all (1), a little bit (2), moderately (3), quite a bit (4) and extremely(5)’. It wasn’t particularly fun to fill out, indeed, was very painful and took a lot of time, lots of pacing and several cups of tea. Some of the questions (over a hundred of them) I passed by without the slightest response, and others like the ones noted would often deliver a sickly blow to the stomach, triggering those feelings, and all the painful experiences that helped create them.

To label it as (5) ‘extremely distressed’ did not exactly encapsulate the whole and utterly complete sensation that I feel at those moments. Reality, time, the world around me and the feet below cease to exist as I’m lost in the minds abyss and the pain that it can inflict on the soul. It’s at those points that I just want to tear or rip it out. It’s at times like those that I feel “Fear of the worst happening” or if not; use old tricks for a temporary reprieve from this existence or punish myself for having them.

I think, in fact I know with an absolute certainty that I need CBT and that it will form a significant part of my recovery process. The mimetic destructive pattern of my life with brief highs followed by suicidal lows is not sustainable, not healthy and will never allow for the quality of life I desire. This way of being destroyed my relationship and this way of being is incongruent with any future plans for family life. Lord Byron whose writing was heavily influenced by his experiences with of manic depression claimed that “I doubt sometimes whether the quiet and unagitated life would have suited me – yet sometimes I yearn for it”.

Whilst I may yearn for an unagitated life, there is something very seductive about living a life of intense highs and lows as it has now become so ingrained into my perception of my individuality, my uniqueness – what separates me from you. I guess that’s because I think that any other way would also represent another form of imprisonment that I feel when depressed – that of responsibility. If this is to change then so most my thought, as the belief in my thought will create my reality. I need help in creating a healthier set of thoughts, or strategies to cope when I am having detrimental thoughts.

Rousseau boldly proclaimed in his opening sentence in ‘The Social Contract’ that “Man is born free yet everywhere is in chains”. If I have a career, or I’m in a loving relationship, have close friends, or form part of a family then there is some form of obligation as with anyone else, just not necessarily to the extent that I thrust upon myself. They do represent big commitments and therefore big responsibilities, and I wear them like a man chained with heavy shackles and burdened by an immovable ball. These should be, are and have been blessings in my life, yet they terrify me because it requires me to open myself up, to expose myself and I’m scared of being hurt, yet even more terrified of hurting. If all the pain and destructiveness happened before then why won’t it happen again?

Yet, I know that a lot of that was from having an undiagnosed illness that is very destructive if left untreated. There has been progress and so much change in that I am becoming the person I can and should be, yet the capacity I have for self-destructiveness still lingers. However, to shy away from them would be shying away from life and I want to live a full and rich life – life is a responsibility however much I wish otherwise. I have moments of golden bright hope where I am convinced things will change, that there will be peace and joy, yet amongst the shadows of my despair, I am very good an convincing myself otherwise.

I am aware of the contradictory messages that I give myself, often at the same moment of time of. Like a Punch and Judy show, with Punch being hope and Judy, despair – trading blows, knocking one another down without completely knocking one another out. I would hope that hope would win but perhaps it shouldn’t as for me hope is often merely naivety disguised. In that sense, despair is cynicism manifested and I do not want to live my life accordingly to either. What I have benefited from most so far on my journey to recovery, is listening to the wisdom of men who have undergone similar experiences, regardless of the cause.

Wisdom is the middle way that keeps both naivety and cynicism in check – both of which arise from a place of ignorance. Wisdom is gained through listening and being open to the possibility of other possibilities. It was said that Socrates, the founder of western philosophy, was pronounced the wisest man in Athens by the oracle at Delphi. Upon exploration of the truth of this proclamation, Socrates came to the conclusion that he was wiser than those that claimed to be wise, because he was conscious of his ignorance where as most where not. He did not think he knew what he did not know and therefore, continually sought to learn by engaging in dialogue with those he encountered.

I have mainly written this to try and put all my thoughts out before me so that I can and understand what exactly I want from this trip, if anything at all (which I do). Thoreau, another wise man and source of great inspiration, chose to spend some time in isolation in the woods “… because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”. That’s the mindset that I want to have approaching the trip, for in this frame of mind I have no fixed expectations and therefore not attaching any feelings so I can take it for what it becomes, rather than desperately trying to make it something I want it to be.

My whole life will not be defined by the outcome of this trip, just as much that my whole life will not be defined by my illness, the mistakes I have made, the suffering I have endured and the suffering I have inflicted. That reality will only happen if I don’t forgive, and forgiveness is the wisest and healthiest act a man can do (in my judgment of course). I may still be a way away from that place, but I am getting there. I do write this with some sense of self-pity that repels me for it is a quality that I do not like abut myself, but at the same time I am not creating an ass groove in my armchair of self-despair despite the comfort of its familiarity.

I may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel but I trust is there and I’m going to make it and adventurous, mythical journey to find it. Mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that all of us undertake a heroes journey if we answer the call. A (classic male) hero’s journey never begins until an event, or series of events, expose the youthful reality that he thought to be true and all being is a mere illusion, sprung from his naïve perspective. The trauma that this thrusts upon the hero forces him to touch upon his soul, inflicting a wound unlike any suffered in the calamities of childhood. Fully conscious of his soul, his being, the hero embarks on a journey in attempt to heal that pain. The mystical journey embarked upon leads to a greater reality with a more expansive existence, where everything that is unconsciously internalised, is externalised for him to so see. Thus begins his journey to find himself and his place in his shared reality, in his shared world. The hero sets out as a young naïve impulsive fool who battles with despair and returns as wise King at peace with himself and thus, peace with the world around him.

Whenever I look upon my life in this context, I find hope and that hope keeps me going so maybe it “is the best of things”. I maybe taking a risk with this trip because I am putting my heart into it, I may risk going out there and finding that I haven’t left the depression behind, I may risk coming back and falling into another depression yet if I didn’t, then I’d almost be condemning myself for “the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing at all…” If life is a story then I want to be the writer of mine and I can only do that by constantly stepping out of my comfort zone and that requires me to take continuous, but not irresponsible, risks.

RISKS by Janet Rand

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool,
To weep is to risk being called sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self.
To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd is to risk being called naive.
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure

But risks must be taken, because the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love.
Chained by their certitude, they are a slave; they have forfeited their freedom.
Only the person who risks is truly free.

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