Saturday, 11 June 2016

Sunshine and suicide: the tale of two journeys.

Saturday the 7th of May, it is about 34 degrees, slow spinning dark teak fans move the warm air above me and my cold bottle of Bintang beer. Writing in a notebook, bits of a book I am composing on the topic of teaching in indonesia. I am in Kota Toa, old town in indonesian, which long before was Dutch colonial Java. The restaurant is everything that pretends to be awesome about colonialism if anything was. Outside the wide white boulevard is loomed over by the columned and green shuttered buildings, now museums that reflect upon the turbulent history of the island as the heat and light of the equator reflect off of the marble.

Six months ago I planned a journey, seems longer and at the same time no time at all. I have been living here four months, one thing is obvious, both to the people at home and those I have met since: I love it here.

One secret, an actual one, I have told no one until now, it was not the only journey I planned.

I was looking at jobs overseas whilst I looked at the train line website for uk travel: I intended to go to Swansea, get a bus to Gower, from there like many before, I intended to jump onto the rocks of the Welsh coast and to be washed away by the Irish sea. I am aware that it seems an over statement, but I had no doubt that once there it would be automatic. Once walking to the train station it would flow naturally until it's conclusion. I was occasionally concerned catching the train to work, just in case I got on a different train.

What is now a year ago; I lost my home, my job and the love of my life departed in what felt at the time like a car crash. If you have been in a car crash you will know that it appears to happen slowly, so you become a horrified spectator enabling you to watch something you know full well is going to hurt but have no capacity to intervene in the cause of. There was no anger at this point, just a numb emotional nihilism and acceptance of a turgid and joyless reality.

I love the coffee here on the island of Java, for reasons that are self explanatory. The food here is nothing like I had tried, the local Wartegs and the people that feed me have welcomed me, often as an odd sort of furry pet, but still happily accepted me as a part of their everyday lives.

In the morning I leave for work, mothers have carried heavy double gas hobs onto the street and fry a breakfast of tofu, children play with match box cars and marbles on the uneven stone that their mothers sit upon and wave at me as I walk up the narrow road in the shimmering heat of the morning.

Only a few months ago I had sat in a box room in Reading surrounded by my remaining possesions, stacked up as they were, higher than the edge of the bed and filling the remainder of the room. Perched on the edge of the bed I had cried. The tangled wires of my stereo system sticking from bags of books, the possesions I had once thought important, now just a pile of bin liners and badly labelled boxes.

I had worked with abusive and abused youths for a long time, but the abuse I received at work and was well accustomed to struck home in a way like never before; the students I had worked with for so long began to hit a nerve. "I'll kill you fucking cunt. I fucked your fucking mum you pedo." Made me cross. I had lost perspective on their motivation for saying it along with my professional ability. "Fucking waste man".

The physical assaults I had avoided, despite my not infrequent hospitalisations I had had in the past, began to frighten me. I got edgy and flinched at sudden lunges by students, which encouraged them to do it more frequently. My fear was that I would strike one of them: if they hit me at that point in my life I would have struck them back. A boiling, knotted part of me wanted to and the pain of being hit myself would be a trigger.

For some reason music, all music, made me angry. As though any expressed emotion on the part of others just encouraged a false, nonexistent idea of hope or happiness that I found physically revolting.

I went to Gower with my ex girlfriend once, I made a mental note to send her a message, one that said using Gower wasn't a message or statement to or about her. It wasn't. It is just a very convenient cliff that I knew of and could use without anyone being traumatised by my remains. These things seemed very important to me, even though nothing else was.

I was trying to find reason, tried to focus on positives, change my perspective but a dull weight in my stomach joined by a sense of hopelessness caused a slouch in my demeanour, I would grind my teeth and think of the cliff face several times each day. I would leave my bag on the bench at the top with a note, I thought, I wasn't keen on the idea of the Facebook goodbye.

The summer of 2015 arrived and I went to the refugee camps in Calais, I hoped to teach there and write an accompanying article. I have written enough about that experience and I returned to England to work in a demoted capacity as winter began. I was aware that the buses only ran to Gower in the summer months, so I elected to get a taxi. It would be an expensive journey, but it wasn't as if money was going to be a problem for the rest of the month.

I know meeting with those fleeing war, those who lost their homes and even loved ones, who continued to struggle should have put me in my place. Should have made me realise how lucky I am, but depression isn't logical, it cannot be defeated by rational cogitation alone. It takes more.

I was aware that the people I lived with would have to clear out my room, this would be an awfully unpleasant task.

This problem solved itself as I spoke of work overseas and sold and gave away most of my things. All of my friends thought they knew where I was going, everyday I fought to prove them right. I lost all self confidence, I began to shake when alone in cafes. I felt scrutinised and obvious. The repeat of each day made me furious to have started it when I knew I should have made the choice yesterday not to. I looked at the train timetable for Wales at work and felt furious at nothing.

Frequently I couldn't face my friends; unable, even at a new years party among people I had known for ten years, I could not convince myself that I was welcome. More and more I growled as I walked, becoming frustrated at people I loved for nothing more than being present.

It was time to catch a train. I caught the right train, in the end. If it had not been for the kindness of others I am certain it would not have been the case. I wasn't running away, I wasn't searching for anything, just using the freedom the previous months had taught me I have.

Men in the uk between the ages of twenty and fortynine are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause. One thing they shared: there was a time, for all of them, when they would never had thought it would end that way. They do not all suffer from depression, they cannot all suffer from a long term mental illness.

At times events are turbulent and the expectation is that you cope: in truth there are times when you cannot. The fact that you cannot causes a new contortion of anger at ones self. Your feelings of bitterness are doubled as you blame circumstance for the state of affairs and you for your failure. Death is not sought, merely escape.

Aeschylus wrote: in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

This, in part, is the straw that we must clutch: when all is all is lost the fear of loss is gone along with it. This, in it's way, is a form of courage and one we did not previously have. It may all seem horrendously meaningless, but this is a boon to ambition: is failure not as meaningless? There is food you have not tasted, joys you have not felt and the vast unpredictability of life is now completely yours.

Your journey will end at some point, it will be just as inconsequential as though you had ended it yourself. You may as well walk it until then. And now, now you have been as low as you can be, the scenery is entirely up to you.