Holiday ups and downs

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.

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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.

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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.

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