Meanwhile, in real life

I don’t really like writing about things that affect my real life on this blog, as you will have gathered.  I would like to give the impression that I am a disembodied intellect drifting high above the surface of the planet, occasionally focussing on some aspect of the scene below, but I am not, and real things keep happening.

Real thing the first

One of my mum’s best friends, whom she had known since they were in their 20s, has died.  The last time I saw her was at my mum’s funeral.  She came to the ceremony, but it was a cold, foggy day, and she chose not to come with us to the graveside, which meant that none of us got to speak to her.  My last memory is of her waving, once, as we set off on foot to the cemetery.

My brother had kept in touch with her since, and, because she had no living relatives, organised her funeral.  She died very suddenly of a heart attack.  She had an absolute horror of becoming dependent on other people, and especially dreaded going into an old people’s home, so there was some comfort in the manner of her death.

This will keep happening, of course.  The numbers of people who knew my mum well are dwindling away, and soon she will live on only in the memories of her children.  In 40 years or so all of us will be dead, and another 40 or so years after that her grandchildren – who did not know her that well, and will remember her mainly as a smiling but easily-tired and frail lady in a wheelchair – will die, and it will be as though my mother had never lived.  Human life is a very brief thing.


Real thing the second

My family (specifically my brother and sister) took it upon themselves not to tell me about her death, or her funeral, until after the event, and then to present it to me in the midst of lots of (as they supposed…) good news.  I am not greatly upset about this – I knew my mum’s friend only slightly, and less well than other members of my family – but I am annoyed.  They were intending to be kind, of course, and I have (with some difficulty) kept a grip on my temper and responded appropriately, but still.  I may be their younger brother, and I may not be the most mentally balanced of people, but I am not a child, and I resent being treated like one.


Real thing the third

Part of the ‘good news’ was to tell me all about plans for this year’s christmas.  Readers of this blog with long memories will remember that I was induced and manipulated and blackmailed and all-but-coerced into spending last christmas with (part of) my family.  It turns out they will be using the same techniques to induce and manipulate and blackmail and all-but-coerce me into doing the same this year.  I am not looking forward to this.

Christmas is a bad time of year for my mental health.  It’s almost always the peak of the various seasonal illnesses that are around, and I have a paranoid fear of all of them.  In addition, the shortest day/ nadir of the year thing gets to me on a psychological level in quite a big way.  Still, even given that, it’s highly unlikely that I will be so ill it’ll be literally impossible for me to venture out of my flat long enough to say hello to them, especially as they have (without me asking them) arranged to travel hundreds of miles to be nearby.  It’s not that I’ll be incapable of doing it, it’s just that I really, really won’t want to, and being forced (or, rather, being manipulated into feeling that I have to force myself) to do it will have a bad effect on me, both at the time itself, and in the run-up.

Part of me wants to join in.  I would love to be able to go and chat to my kind and caring siblings, and laugh immoderately when not-very-funny things happen in the course of making the christmas dinner, and get cheerfully drunk, and eat obscene amounts of food, and be filled with happiness and seasonal cheer, but the thing is I know I won’t be capable of that.  What I’ll be capable of is trying desperately to do an impression of someone who’s having a good time, so as not to put a damper on the experience for my brother and sister, but I’ll actually be sitting there wondering how short a period of time has to go by before I can leave and crawl back to my hovel of a flat, and sag gratefully into bed.

Part of me wants to take Aethelread outside for a damn good kicking for being such a whiny, self-centred, unwiped-arsehole of a person that he would actually complain about having a family who care for him.  Contrast that with the people Cellar_Door talked about who are confined in hospital, and whose only christmas present year after year is an official one bought for them by the NHS.  Compare that to my mum’s friend, who used to make a point of setting herself some major household task – clearing out a cupboard or something – for christmas day, so she wouldn’t feel at a loose end.

The thing is, and despite all that, I just want to be left alone.

I’m always astonished that other people find that so hard to understand.  When I say I prefer my own company, it’s not a pose, I’m not putting on a brave face, I’m not making a virtue out of a necessity – I just do, genuinely, prefer my own company.  It’s not that I dislike other people exactly, but they’re hard work, and unpredictable, and they come over all cautious and concerned when you’re in the kitchen on your own and they overhear you telling your brain to shut the fuck up about something.  When I’m with other people, I’m never relaxed, I’m always on guard, I’m always trying to stand outside myself to check and see if I’m doing anything odd, I’m always watching for the microscopic glances people give each other when they’re thinking ‘Hmmm…’ about something I’ve just done or said.

There’s a popular theory that people who spend a lot of time on their own start to turn peculiar, but I don’t think we do.  I think it’s just that we lose the instinct to always disguise ourselves, to be constantly monitoring ourselves to be sure we can pass for ‘normal’.  Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m not a ‘normal’ person, and being ‘normal’ has never come naturally to me.  Maybe for ‘normal’ people ‘normality’ isn’t a paper-thin façade that has to be constantly maintained if it’s not going to rip into thousands of tiny shreds.  Possibly other people aren’t lying when they say they’d love to go for a drink, or to a party, or out for a meal.  I’ve always assumed that nobody could genuinely take pleasure in those kinds of ‘pleasurable’ activities, that they’re just things you have to do if you want to fit in with the crowd, but maybe not.

What I do know is that, for me, those things aren’t a pleasure, they’re a chore, and as time goes by, I find I’m less and less inclined to put myself through the hassle.  The ‘benefits’ that come from it aren’t really a benefit if you’d rather be on your own – the ‘reward’ for being sociable and outgoing is that you have to spend more time being sociable and outgoing – and I find I’m less and less bothered about doing those things for the sake of other people.  Their concerns just seem so trivial.

At times like this all I really want to do is escape.  It wouldn’t be hard.  I already have no mobile phone.  All I would need to do is move to another city and stop checking the email accounts that are attached to my real name.  I’ve no doubt my family would report me as a missing person – they’ve done it once already, and that time I just stayed quietly at home – and hiding completely from the police would be tricky.  It would mean no bank account, no benefits, no job, no home, no utilities, and so on.  But I don’t think I’d have to bother with any of that – if the police found me, and I didn’t want to make contact with my family, all they could report back was that they had found me alive and well.  Or I could send a final email saying that I was going walkabout, but that I was fine, and they shouldn’t try to find me.

It’s very, very tempting.

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8 Responses to Meanwhile, in real life

  1. eroswings says:

    First of, I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost my mother a few months ago, and it feels unreal at times. Even though I knew it was coming, when it happened, it was still hard to deal with. Since then, a few of my mom’s friends have also passed away. It’s a very real reminder that life is short, so do what makes you happy and live the way you want to.

    I can totally relate about dealing with manipulative siblings who mean well but actually end up treating you like a stupid kid. My elder siblings still do that to us younger ones. I don’t get along with my elder siblings, and I’m the only one living on my own, very far away from everyone–Have done so since I left high school. And I like it. Even my mom encouraged it–she knew I had a wanderlust in me and wanted me to go forth and not let my siblings hold me back.

    I understand what you mean by preferring to be alone. There are times that I enjoy being in social situations and I relish the company. But sometimes, I like being alone. Solitude is a wonderful feeling, esp after a long day at work, where I deal with all sorts of people. It’s nice to have your own space and just be yourself, not worry about making sure other people are okay or having a good time. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be by yourself, doing the things you want to do.

    I work most major holidays, covering for coworkers who want to be off with their families. While they appreciate my willingness to cover for them, they don’t understand why I don’t feel alone nor feel the need to be around family. It’s hard to tell people that loneliness is a state of mind–you can be in a roomful of people and still feel lonely. Some people are afraid of being by themselves. I’m not. I like it. And if I do want company, I’ve got friends I can go to and spend time with–some in real life, others online.

    If there is anything I’ve learned in life so far, it’s that life is too short, so do what makes you happy and live each day as if it were your last.

    Best wishes to you and Happy Halloween!

  2. Katherine says:

    Condolences for your mum’s friend and sympathies on dreading family holiday times.
    There were several years there when I would hide upstairs or out on a walk most of the day and then drink neat gin (because it’s clear and no one can tell whether you’ve mixed it with anything or not) in the evenings in order to be able to sit with everyone downstairs. (Drinking like that is not something I normally do – I am a very moderate drinker in real, non-family holiday life). For me it’s something about it being family as I do quite genuinely enjoy most social occasions as long as I’m in the minimum amount of mental health. Even when I’m doing well, I still end up drinking more than I would (though not to the point of drinking neat gin lately) or taking klonopin or anti-histamines or something, anything to stop me wanting to run screaming out of the room, and all this despite the fact that I generally get on well with my family members as individuals.
    This year, I’m coping with family holiday obligations by living on a different continent in a different time zone and refusing to fly back on the grounds that I can’t afford to and that time changes have a tendency to set me off, mental health wise. Both of those reasons are true but it is really that I can’t resist taking a year off of family holiday obligations when I have the chance to do so without hurting anybody’s feelings.

  3. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments. Katherine, sorry, your’s got routed to the pending queue for some reason i don’t understand.

    eroswings – i’m sorry to hear about your mother. I have had getting on for 2 years to get used to my mum’s death, and, as for you, her death did not come as a surprise, but there are still moments when it seems very odd to me that she will never be back. You are exactly right about the brevity of life, and the best response to it.

    Thanks for the Halloween wishes! :o)

    Katherine – thanks for the sympathy.

    Oh, moving to another continent is an excellent idea for an excuse. I’ve always had a hankering to live in Canada, too… Sadly, it’s likely to be the neat gin approach for me this year (although i am far too much of a wuss to be able to handle neat gin…)

    I hope you enjoy your year off. :o)

  4. J.Wibble says:

    I understand the feelings of the pressure to put on a facade of cheeriness when all you really want is to be left alone and not have to be drained by socialising. This is why I’m not a fan of Christmas (or ‘annual present-giving day’ as we call it in this house, as none of us celebrate it per se), as the financial and social implications of it are an enormous drain. I’m doing my best not to think about it.

    I sympathise with the emotional blackmail aspect of it, especially as I really had to put my foot down with my in-laws that this year I would be going to see my own family and not spending a week somewhere in the arsehole of nowhere with about ten people I hardly know/have never met before, with no opportunity whatsoever to escape and have some time away from it. At least at my mum’s I can be reassured by the guaranteed presence of vast quantities of wine to ease the tension.

  5. cellar_door says:

    Ahh, the joys of the ‘festive’ season. Seriously, at what point is it all supposed to be ‘fun’, as opposed to just stressful? *sigh* I would sack it all and go to work christmas day, if I could live with the guilt off my parents.

    So, yes, sympathy also from me. I can see why running away is appealing…

  6. cellar_door says:

    Ou, and if you go to Canada you have to take me…I’ll be quiet, I promise, and will leave you alone whenever you want….


  7. Adair says:

    Have you ever tried showing up but being genuine and not pretending? I remember last holiday season… on New Year’s Day my mother forced me to move from a catatonic state and I ended up spending 3 hours in a seriously freaked-out state going through all sorts of stages culminating in wordless screaming because I could no longer even think in words, just sense the feeling of inner wrongness and the need to communicate it.

    I genuinely like social occasions. I think I’m an extravert at heart, underneath all the depression and anxiety and the isolation. But sometimes I can’t function in them, and that can be pretty horrible. It’s a mixed blessing that I have to wear my illness on my sleeve–I have alarming symptoms, but I’m also forced to form deeper bonds with the people in my life because I can’t pretend, because interaction greatly affects my symptoms, and because we’re forced to deal with them.

  8. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments. This time around i have to apologise to J Wibble, whose comment was routed to the pending queue, again for reasons i don’t understand.

    J – not going to your in-laws sounds like a plan. By which i mean, vast amounts of wine sounds like a plan… ;o) Hope it doesn’t get too draining and stressful for you. Perhaps you could rename it ‘annual no-present-giving day’? That would help to save on the financial costs, at any rate. :o)

    cellar_door – i’m sure there’s some kind of joke to be made out of you wanting to ‘sack christmas’, sacks full of presents and so on, but it’s not coming to me at the moment. I throw it open to the floor… ;o)

    It’s amazing the amount of guilt generated by family. The thing is, i was kind of assuming the guilt thing would evaporate after my mum died, then last year i thought the guilt was just because my sister was so upset at the thought of christmas without my mum (obviously, none of us were thrilled, but she took it especially hard) – but it seems as though family guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. The thing is, i have a sneaking feeling that my family may only make plans to involve me because they feel guilty about not seeing me more often, even though that’s not their fault.

    As Homer Simpson said: ‘Why. Must. Everything. Be. So. Hard?’ ;o)

    Adair – ah, we’re obviously different, you and i. For you, under the illness and other crap beats the heart of an extrovert people lover, and for me, under the surface, beats the flinty heart of a miserable recluse… ;o)

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