Two years ago my brother killed himself and I barely shed a tear for eighteen months and then, it hit me! It hit me like an articulated truck hitting me. I’ve learned a lot about how I manage my feelings over the last two years and a lot about grief. There is no timetable for your mind to manage grief, no set of rules and there is no end to the journey, just that upward climb back to life, a different life.
Of course the day of the news is the moment you remember, that knock on the door, the look on the two police officers faces as you let them into your home, your unbreakable fortress, your sanctuary, as they break the news and break you. However, for me it was the second year when the meltdown took over. The first year was like being under a deep fog, all my emotions locked away in a small void deep in the depths of my subconscious, not prepared to open that box for fear, fear of what I don’t know.
With hindsight I can understand my minds self defence mechanism, shutting down the ability to grieve in that first year in order to protect me from the reality of the situation. The death of my brother came about the time I had entered my forties, my self-awareness of my being was shifting from the immortality of youth to the reality of the fact that our time here is limited. It’s a critical juncture I’m sure in everyone’s life. The colliding of these two catastrophic life events intensified my desire to take back control.
I think the big eye opener for me following my meltdown was recognising that I am no longer invincible and I am now being aware of that all-consuming cloak of my own mortality, this is a major step in the direction of moving forward. My childhood was chequered to say the least but I became the master of compartmentalisation – if there is such a work, basically locking thoughts and memories away in a box and putting them somewhere far away in the depths of my mind, never to surface again, or that was the plan at least anyway.
My ‘midlife crisis’ I now call it in order to make light of the situation to others without going into the nitty gritty details of my meltdown, had arrived. It would seem, through the various articles, blogs and books I have read many people have a melt-down at some point and fumble around in the dark for a while, some of us go and find ourselves, some self-medicate those uncomfortable feelings that won’t go away. However that unnamed desire for something more doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can be the best thing that ever happened to us if it spurs us on to a quest for answers.
As I began to reject my old beliefs and easy come philosophy to life, I could feel my body getting restless, I needed to reinvent myself, perhaps a way of saying to the rest of the world, this thing, this grief, this life changing catastrophe is not going to beat me. The first step in my transformation was the desire to emerge from the depths of insanity as something, someone different, a new identity, a new physical expression.
And so began the next stage of my life, reinvention, which mainly consisted of a change in appearance, I grew a beard. I’ve never really tested my hair growing prowess, only on two occasions that I can remember that I left my face unshaven for little more than a few weeks when the itchiness got the better of me. I’ve always had a little hidden admiration of big bearded continentals whose thatch resembled the tight weave of an expensive carpet. My beard, whilst still in its infancy to what I am aiming to achieve, is approaching four months to be exact at the time of writing this blog. When I catch sight of myself in a shop window reflection, my instant reaction is admiration for what I thought I could never achieve. Whilst the internet provides a wide array of style choices to the new wearer, I have one goal, the Bandholz, google it, it is a beautiful thing.
This ‘change’ in my life, the way I think about life is an opportunity to see every day as an opportunity to get my life right, the person I want to be. My meltdown has given me the opportunity to experience my genuine self – flaws, scars, warts and all. My midlife crisis hasn’t manifested as an obsession to buy a fast, two seater sports car, moreover, it’s revealed itself as a slow, nagging case of doubt, accepting that I’m going to die one day, quite soon in the great scheme of things. I don’t think I obsess about this too much but I do think about it considerably more now than I did ten years ago. Best case scenario, the show is at least half over and there are more days behind than ahead.
I have noticed recently that I am learning and enjoying my own company, I am getting bored with the need to fill in my day, week with time-wasting activities like irrelevant superficialities. Instead, I am consciously calmly focused on achieving tasks. I made the decision about three months ago to start commuting to work by bike, the pedalling kind; I guess a kind of commitment to my new life, new me.
I’ve found that the time during this commute to and from work is like the perfect pair of book ends to the working day. The unique feeling I have on a bike is the freedom I feel wherever I am or wherever I am going. I don’t ever feel obliged to take the same route, I can choose to go where my will takes me, how fast or slow I choose and sometimes quicker and cheaper than commuting by car or public transport. Rivers, fields, small wooded areas come to life when you’re on a bike. Quicker than walking but slow and gentle enough to take in the sights sounds and smells of both the animal and human kingdoms. Ernest Hemingway said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” I concur.
All in all my meltdown, although as a result of a tragic single event, has transformed me, for the better and I would say to anyone going through a similar difficult time, embrace it and go with don’t bottle it up because the it will come out eventually, some way, somehow, but it will get you eventually.