This ‘bah humbug’ style post follows from another article by Fleetstreetfox and from half a dozen conversations I’ve had with friends around the Mill Road part of town, as well as online.
“Be part of red heart day, and show the one you love how much you love them by buying lots of stuff at inflated prices putting you into even more debt!”
“But if there’s one thing that means romance more than anything else in the modern era, it’s this:
When you’re with them, you want to put your phone down.
And if you can’t manage that, people, then I’ve no hope for you”
Well that’s me doomed then!
This is the first blogpost I’ve written about this topic because it’s something that historically has filled me with sad emotions. Thus my way of dealing with it has been to pretend publicly that I don’t have such emotions or to keep them hidden out of sight & out of mind of everyone else.
During my teens, I was crushed by the fear of rejection and humiliation along with an austere religious doctrine when it came to sex and relationship education. Without anyone to make the serious case for alternative viewpoints – remember Section 28 was still around throughout my school & college years. It was ‘family values or nothing.’
What really strikes me now (in a positive way) is how I now know lots of people in a variety of different relationships, and also how comfortable I am with this given my upbringing. Part of this was the impact of spending three years in Brighton at a time when I both wanted and needed to rebel against so many of the values that with hindsight crushed my soul & spirit. But at the same time it meant I had to spend most of my early 20s getting things out of my system that I should have dealt with in my teens. No, I’m still not over everything yet. Every time I think of organised religion and its impact on my emotional health – not to say every Sunday morning wasted being indoctrinated, I get really angry and have to use CBT-techniques to calm down.
Struggling with the emotional side of exploring my own sexuality
I remember about 15 years ago at an international student conference in my first year at uni, one of the women there offered sex on a plate. I froze, not really knowing how to deal with it & the moment was gone. This was after a few months at university not really having connected with anyone whether dating-wise or friendship-wise. That said, the conference was great fun and those of us that went came away wondering why university wasn’t like this. Fast-forward to graduation & I remember the contempt too many graduands felt towards the university – something several of us talked about at the graduation ceremony. Mine was the second generation of ‘up front fees’ and felt we were treated like cash cows rather than an integral inclusive part of university life. That’s why I tend to shout down the phone at any unfortunate soul from the university trying to get more money off me.
Dashed hopes and expectations?
I wasn’t the only one. Ever since, a number of people I’ve met over the years who went to university (and came out disappointed) felt they were sold a lie by the institution, or were told by their elders about a university lifestyle that no longer existed. I still remember being told that going to university meant you were in the top 1-2% of the brightest people in the country, as well as being told that I was likely to meet my future wife there. I guess one of the hardest things about growing up is learning that what the older generation tells you about life isn’t always true. In my case it’s meant I no longer trust the opinions or advice of an entire cohort of people in my parents generation that knew me as a child. What they told me as a child/teenager turned out not to be true and it hurt me. Badly.
Living like a teen in my ‘roaring 20s’
When I returned to Cambridge after university – six months after my first major mental health crisis, I got involved in a number of societies at Cambridge & Anglia Ruskin as a post-graduate student of the latter. Having dated/had short relationships with a number of students from the former, one of the things that struck me was how intense their workloads & lifestyles were – to the extent that in your formative years I could understand how lifelong friendships & relationships were struck up. When a group of you are faced with the same intense pressures, it sort of brings you together in a way the more lethargic lifestyles of other universities (mainly in arts/humanities) at the time could not. To put it in perspective, I had 2-3 assessed essays per term, where as at Cambridge my partners had 2-3 assess essays per week.
It was only after I transferred down to London that I found myself in a reasonably stable relationship – what I call my first proper relationship. But being so single-minded & selfish at the time, I wasn’t nearly the loving, caring boyfriend that I should have been. Obviously the commute didn’t help – we could only see each other at weekends or when I took time off work during university holidays. Shortly after we broke up, I moved to London and lived the work hard-play hard lifestyle, going on various dates, having short flings but never finding the stable loving relationship that I so desperately wanted. Again, dashed expectations of not having found my life partner in the furnace of graduate professional London living.
Where I am now
In early 2012 I had a mental health breakdown which meant I was no longer able to work full time hours. I still cannot to this day. Only earlier this week there were three events I wanted to film but could not get out of bed. I was utterly exhausted.
It seems like years since I was last with someone who made me really feel the emotion of love – my definition of giving and receiving of ‘intimate love’ between people. (The English language is incredibly limited, hence liking the deconstruction of the term ‘love’ here using Greek).
Since 2012, I’ve effectively stopped dating completely. Part of it was due to my breakdown being related to rejection that in my rational mind actually made perfect sense but one that my emotional mind could not switch off. The rest is due to me feeling that while I’m not working full time & having had to move back in with my family, I won’t be good enough for everyone. Not in a ‘woe is me!’ sense but in a: ‘Let’s be realistic here and spend our time doing something more constructive than searching for a forlorn hope, getting continually rejected even more’ sense.
‘But you’re always doing fun stuff!’
I’m still struggling to connect emotionally with people. In part because I have an emotion intensity that can be off-putting. It’s something that when I see it in other people, I back away from them too. Almost as if ‘it’s bad enough being me!’ At the same time, others see me as this confident & outgoing guy who is active in the community. I on the other hand see myself as doing some of the things that ‘need to be done and have a strong public interest to have them done,’ but hardly anyone else will do or is able to do. Some of the decision-making at a very basic level is emotionally exhausting – even deciding to catch a bus into town. It uses up my supply of spoons.
No one to help recharge my emotional batteries
Over the past year it’s something I’ve started feeling more acutely. Whether it’s wanting to work as part of a bigger team on a regular, stable basis to having the loving arms and warm embrace to come back to after a hectic day, the void is becoming more and more noticeable. And all too often it feels like there’s nothing I can do about it. Essentially I’m fighting a war on four fronts:
- Friendships & relationships
- Employment & financial
- Living arrangements
The problem for me is that all of these are so closely intertwined. The other is the huge level of uncertainty both with my health (ie ‘will I ever recover to a point where I can work full time hours again? It’s been three years remember) and also what I see as the general economic/political outlook. Will I ever be in a situation where I’ll be able to afford my own place in the not-to-distant future?
A couple of years ago – not long after my 2012 breakdown I wrote a blogpost titled: “I’d like to teach the world to sing”. This reflects my mindset today: Physically I’m past my peak of my mid-20s. Therefore if there are life experiences that I want to have before it’s too late, now’s the time to do them. So. Let’s look at that list & see what actions I’ve taken.
“I’d like to sing or perform as part of a large group of people to a big audience in splendid surroundings.” Done – and still doing. See here with Dowsing Sound Collective
“I’d like to learn how to ice skate and roller-blade properly. So please can we have that long-muted permanent ice rink in Cambridge please, given that lots of building is happening anyway?” Doing – now skating with Romsey Rollerbillies, and nearly 1,000 FB likes on the Cambridge Ice Rink campaign page I created.
“I’d like to make a positive difference to my home town – making it realise (and ultimately deal with) its own flaws so that it can meet the expectations that come with a growing ‘brand’. (Yes, I hate the term too).” Doing with Be the change – Cambridge -> Join us on 14 March to have your say too! (See here)
“I’d like to overcome my mental blocks on all things creative – especially with art, music and creative media. I have a number of tools but struggle to pick them up, let alone use them in the way I’d like to.” Done and Doing with video – kicked off in summer 2014.
There’s still a lot more to do, but adopting a ‘do stuff’ rather than ‘wait for someone else to do stuff’ seems to be that little bit more constructive. Happy red heart day!