The following requires a foreword because five days ago it would have been impossible to write. The words would have had no meaning, just a made up story without any life experience to lend it form or substance. If you’ve never smelled the roses, for god sake don’t write about it as if you have, everyone will know it’s fake. At the very least tell people you’re fantasising about smelling roses, story telling, which is a whole other, very fine, thing.
I am a life time sufferer of depression, fear and anxiety. I have learnt to live with them, function well with them, even to the point of knowing them as old friends, but I have never experienced what life might have had to offer in their absence, even though I have yearned for that. There was no way through the wall, something I’ve never understood. How does something that is essentially just thoughts and feelings have such substance, such that at times I have needed heavy medication to live, medications which have included drink, so called recreational drugs and, longest and most persistent of all, smoking (from age 10).
This next is rather important to what will follow. My entire existential experience of mental ill health was wrapped in the pejorative terms of failure, hate, self loathing, self annihilation, nailed all round the outside. No matter what and no matter the good advice, the encouragement to self kindness, they never shifted one single inch.
Imagine, then, if all that ‘stuff’ just vanished. Literally overnight. Booted out of the field, kicked the bucket, deceased, alive no more, dead, with not a trace left behind, not even the ability to conjure them up, reduced to words I still understand but lack the ability to experience.
That is the place I am in right now, a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I should have known the Phoenix fable was formed in the crucible of reality and experience, but I had no basis for knowing that, or even guessing it. I guess the Christian born again thing is the same, if less colourfully expressed. However, I now ‘know’ the metaphor was the expression of the real, in order to express the truth of its magnitude (it is different for each person). I am the Phoenix! Risen from the flames of death. From the very flames of being. My old and oh so familiar plumage has been burned away and I weep as I write in the plumage of the new. Great tears tumbling down my face, over which I have no control. The inexpressible joy of those tears, which have no other way of expression. When my entire being sobs its song of joy. A joy that is not inexpressible, it’s just that it may not be expressed in words. Words are the wrong instrument for anything so vast. Ye gods I am in a hospital ward and I am having to disguise the sobs in chokes and coughs, because I neither want nor require comfort or solace, I am too far out for such misers gifts, no matter how well meant.
This is too fresh and new, I am flying like a stringless kite. I am too new, a babe without the least experience of the life just first breathed. These old hands of mine, so familiar, so brand new. I must touch them, discover them as I must everything else.
The hospital got me just in time, I had already accepted the end, too far gone for fear or regret. I closed my eyes and quietly entered the tunnel of the end, without form or feature, finally exhausted, beyond life’s frail borders, on a gentle path to the inevitable sister to life, death. It wasn’t hot or cold, it was of no temperature at all.
But it was not to be. they gathered me up, determined divine warriors for life that they are. The NHS, so degraded, so betrayed, so courageously unbroken. Servants of life. Please stop a moment to think about that and let it sink in. That is a singularity of purpose amongst the living. Entirely for life, in unblinking, unsullied, unquenchable purpose. I never gave it enough thought, and I can see that I could not have done, because I wasn’t here, yet. No journey starts at the end. That may sound trite, but it bloody well isn’t. How many, just like me, have chafed at the journey, been in long car rides, bored, pissed off with the endless seeming tiresome journey, longing for it to be over? Perhaps stressed out parents might set the children a cunning puzzle. Find a better way to make the journey and we’ll go that way. There may be different roads you might take, but the first will be as long and tiresome as the last. There is nothing to do but learn, over many years, endurance in the learnt knowledge that the ecstasy of arrival is even sweeter for the drudgery of the journey.
We do learn, but we must never lose the child if we want to enjoy wonder, because wonder is the gift of innocence, Lose that and you become the most pitiful of all creatures, a Sensible. As it says on a recent gift of a tee shirt. “Stay away from negative people – they are the problem for every solution.” Sensibles are the worlds secret junkies, hooked on ‘Tuts’, pursed lipped disapproval and joy killing. Brrr, bugger off. Sensibles Anonymous isn’t even a thing, it doesn’t exist and people are left to drown in their own dreary misery to assault life at will, the curtain twitching self righteous sad fools. The most pitiable of all creatures.
The real deal is that no one can save another from themselves. On the road of self discovery every single person must reinvent the wheel, it’s an immutable law, you gain nothing until the broken day, the crisis that leads to death or………. to the Choice. The precious, holy, divine choice. How well I remember mine, after 25 years of dedicated alcoholism, lacking even the reward of keeping Scotland’s economy flourishing. Oh the miserable dribbling streak of piss who wandered into that first AA session. “I’m an alcoholic” or some such I groaned. “Why so you are”, they said, “welcome, you’ve made the right choice and you’ve come to the right place. Come in.” The kindness nearly killed me on the spot. Instead, daily, every single day for a very long time (certainly an entire year), I traded death for life. An achievement that nothing in heaven or earth can ever rob me of. The journey began anew, a journey to this new day, an even closer brush with death. I was so ill I almost gave up, so, so tired of the excruciating, indescribable, pain of cancer. It was chance, if there is any such thing, that I was emailed by a friend, A small thing on courage and cowardice , that was much more inspiring in the reading than the title suggests. I began to read it, just because I loved him dearly, but the words picked me up, rekindled the smoking charred remains of my courage and by some unbelievable means I drove (drove – DROVE!?!) myself to hospital knowing I was dying, but I chose to live, even as I faded away on arrival, beyond consciousness.
They lifted me from the boat already on the River Styx to minister life.
I have reawakened, but not all of me, some part of me has died, met its rightful time and due date. That wall I spoke of earlier. Gone. Gone forever. Nothing can bring it back, I can tell, because I can already see the wound has closed and healed. Thank you wall, old and newly departed friend, thank you for your lessons which, clearly, I have learned, else you’d be here still. Thank you for the parting gift of finality.
And so this piece is done. I hope it is not an unkind place for you dear reader, but I may go no further, I shall not speak of roses until I have smelled them. That’s one of the rules, simple, but true.
Adieu, for now – Till we meet again.
KOG. 22 July 2020.
 Courage and Cowardice https://www.douglasbaker.com/media/Courage_Cowardice.mp3