I’ve been on holiday. My wife and I spent all day Monday cycling through the beautiful English countryside. We literally did a great deal of ups and downs. And it was nearly sunny. We covered 48 miles in a day (that’s 77 km for you non-metric types). Our destination was the sea, and it was wonderful to see it welcoming us as we pedalled those final few miles.
Once we arrived, however, the novelty of being on holiday quickly wore off. I was happy not to be in the office, but at the same time, I always hate not having routine. Once there’s no structure to my days, all I can see is time stretching out that can only be filled with thoughts.
And I don’t want thoughts, not the ones I’m used to anyway.
Despite feeling anxious and pretty depressed, we managed to have an enjoyable morning on my wife’s birthday. I got up early and made everyone pancakes. Then we headed into town to go and be childish at the pier. I love piers. They are always so tacky and cheesy and rough around the edges. I can instantly immerse myself in the gaudiness; it holds so much nostalgia from all my family holidays. Those memories of rainy days and the copper smell of two pence pieces.
There was this terrifying fairground ride at the end of the pier. I can’t quite describe it to you; but needless to say there was enormous height, a horrendous sudden drop and a lot of spinning while upside down. I am, to some extent, a thrill seeker. But for some reason I’ve always bottled it when it comes to anything that turns me upside down.
I’m not sure why, but I decided to go for it this time. Despite being incredibly scared, I sat myself in that seat and let them lock me in. I took some deep breaths and just closed my eyes as I sped into the air and then suddenly hurtled back toward the sea. I screamed so hard I was still hoarse two days later. In the end, the terror was mercifully short lived. I was soon released to stagger, ashen-faced to where my wife had been watching with slight anxiety / amusement and possibly a hint of embarrassment at the crowd my blood-curdling screams had drawn.
I think part of what motivated me to have a go was the need to feel something. I think I hoped the shock would shake the hollow, grey feeling from me. I was disappointed when it didn’t. Once the adrenaline settled down, I just returned to my miserable normal. We were doing things I’ve always enjoyed, with some of our closest friends who I usually love spending time with. But nothing felt good. I could only stagnate in a pervasive, miserable fog.
This was manageable. Just. I could keep a lid on it and play the part for everyone else. But it pissed me off that I should have been having fun. It made me feel massively ungrateful for all the good things I’ve been blessed with. I felt pathetic and selfish, being on holiday and being so absorbed in my bleak inner world. And I felt even more alien than usual, because I just couldn’t stay present and appreciate the moments my wife and our friends were enjoying.
The final nail in the coffin of the holiday was a dreadful night terror. I’ve been having more of these lately, but sleeping in a different environment seemed to amplify them. It was possibly the worst one I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t shake myself out of it. I was paralysed but semi-conscious. I could feel my body being torn apart by what appeared to be the forces of good and evil. These claws were ripping into my flesh and every time I got pulled downward it felt like I was drowning. I was so frightened and so unable to end the nightmare.
In the morning I was exhausted. I had struggled through three days of what was meant to be a week away. I knew I looked like shit and my wife could see I wasn’t coping. She gently suggested we took a train home and I protested. I didn’t want to ruin her trip. She is incredible and strong and supportive. My illness takes so much from her. And I badly wanted her to have a relaxing, fun time on holiday. She knows me so well, so she read my mind and got assertive.
Cycling to the station, I kept wanting to cry. I don’t get tearful much, but I felt like a massive failure. I felt like I was letting down the person I love more than life itself. But when we got on the train all I could feel was relief. And arriving back at our house was, for me, returning to my sanctuary. I walked through the door and I was safe. I could sit in my favourite corner, wrapped in my favourite blanket, and order was restored.